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Tuesday, March 28

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Bulls Mon Dec 24 2012

Reading The Bulls Weekend; A Tale of Two Cities

Bulls_200.pngIt was the best of times(Friday nights ejection-plagued feel-good game of the year where the Bulls beat the New York Knicks 110-106), it was the worst of times (Bulls getting out-everything'd by the third place Atlanta Hawks on Saturday), it was the age of wisdom (Coach Thibodeau adjusting and playing a "small ball" line-up to match the three-guard Knicks), it was the age of foolishness (Thibodeau leaving in an ineffective Kirk Hinrich and ice cold Carlos Boozer for extended minutes letting the Atlanta game get further out of hand).

Fortunately for the Bulls, regular season basketball before March is not as epic as 19th century historical novels. They won the type of game versus the Knicks where you text your buddy, "Are you watching this? Should we book a hotel and plane tickets for Miami in May for the (Eastern) Conference Finals?" And on Saturday they lost the type of game where you text the same bud, "this is embarrassing (NSFW it's a graphic throw-down)."

There was clearly a lack of focus against the Atlanta Hawks. Just like on Monday against the Memphis Grizzles they looked good in the first quarter and couldn't create against a good defensive team. When the Bulls score over 100 points, they are 6-0, and when they score less than 90 they're 2-6. The Bulls have a hard time playing from behind. Without Derrick Rose, this team can't let leads against them build up. In all of the Bulls' victories in the month of December, they have never experienced a deficit larger than 7 points (with the exception of a poor Detroit Pistons' team who lead the Bulls by 17 points). They do what good teams do; secure leads and win. Even in the New York game, where the Bulls had a 25-point lead at one point, they let the Knicks score 45 points in the fourth quarter, but still managed to do what Doug Thonus hilariously and aptly said in the title of his Bulls Confidential piece; "Bulls Crush Knicks (by 4)."

Former NBA champion (and technically a former Bull) Bruce Bowen mentioned on the ESPN Lockdown podcast that this Bulls roster as-is could make it to the Eastern Conference Finals even without Derrick Rose. As I've mentioned before, "Defense Wins Central Division Championships." The Central Division is the Bulls' to lose. The Indiana Pacers, Bulls and Bucks rank in the top 10 for defensive ratings per 100 possessions in the NBA (first, forth, and seventh respectively). Milwaukee is comprised of two identical backcourt players in Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, and those two are surrounded by mere role players. The Pacers are waiting for their second highest paid player, Danny Granger, to return in February, and Roy Hibbert, whom the Pacers paid a lot of money to this off-season, is struggling.

On the offensive side of the ball, Indiana and Milwaukee are ranked 28th and 27th in offensive rating per 100 possessions in the NBA, with the Bulls coming in at 22nd. So with all things being relatively equal with the Central Division foes, the tie-breaker goes to the team with the most experience winning big games without a superstar (Derrick Rose until the second half) like the Bulls have last year and this year.

The Bulls story this weekend may have been an entertaining win in New York and an uninspired loss in Atlanta, but if you read between the lines there's no cause for concern. Typical NBA letdown game in Atlanta -- the Bulls were due. Nevertheless, the victory against the Knicks was far more impressive and indicative of the Bulls' season than the Atlanta game. The weekend was a tale of two different games, in two different cities, with one takeaway, the Bulls are one player away(#1 Rose) from consistently being consistent.

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