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Sunday, March 3

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Bulls Wed Feb 20 2013

The Race For Second Place Begins For The Bulls

Bulls_200.pngThe return will happen on Thursday. No, not that return, but the return to the United Center of the too-big-to-fail Miami Heat. In front of a national basic cable audience, the Bulls will play harder than the Heat, but the game's outcome will be decided on whether LeBron James wants to start a new efficiency streak or if James isn't able to recover as the best player in the world after the devastating blocks that Kobe Bryant put upon him.

After Tuesday night's 98-87 win over the New Orleans Hornets, the Bulls are left with 29 games in nine weeks. 15 against teams that are currently below .500 and 14 against teams fighting for the chance to play game sevens in Miami and Oklahoma City. Perpetually shifting in the Bulls' way for the second spot in the East are: the three-point shooting, non-rebounding New York Knicks; the team without an identity or a leader, the Brooklyn Nets; and the Bulls' doppelganger and current day arch rival who may be getting a former all-star in Danny Granger back, the Indiana Pacers.

Any predictions at this point are as pointless a post game interview with Coach Thibodeau. The Bulls just need to go on an actual winning streak larger than four games, something they haven't done this season. The Eastern Conference finals is only possible if they don't meet the Heat in the playoffs until then.

Bulls rotation moving forward, an Embarrassment of Richard's. And Boozer's too.

If Chicago is truly stuck with the roster as is, then the first quarter should be reserved for Rip Hamilton and Carlos Boozer to work the offense. Three shots in by either player and you are aware if they're going to play in the fourth quarter or not. You've never read a game recap that went, "Both Boozer and Hamilton started the game 0-for-5 but finished with 18 points a piece." Live by the mid-range jumper, live on the bench when the game's on the line by the mid-range jumper.

When it comes to first half rotations, Coach Thibodeau is as predictable as Benny the Bull walking with an oversized bag brimming with popcorn. Thibodeau does a great job in the second half of games of playing big guards on the opposing team's smaller guards, matching small ball with small ball, or opting for the hot-handed big. Boozer's job is safe, assuming he doesn't get traded, because an ice cold Boozer is better than a warm blooded Nazr Mohammed at this stage of his career.

Unlike Boozer, Hamilton has become expendable. The emergence of the deftly versatile Jimmy Butler, and the erratic but effective play of Marco Belinelli has made it hard to give Hamilton more than 20 minutes a game.

Bulls management and this year's road to nowhere.

When the trade deadline passes, with the predictable Bulls standing pat or at most giving up Hamilton for nothing other than cap relief to a contending Western Conference team, the John Paxson-Gar Forman future addition by subtraction action plan will have culminated. The pair did well to give Thibodeau a puncher's chance with the rag-tag crew of veteran minimum contracts and mid-level exceptions. But as optimistic as any of us were, the writing proved to be on the wall that this team wasn't built to win a championship without, or possibly even with Rose. Management seems to be taking the Cubs 100-plus-year model of "wait till next year."

It Gets Better.

As flawed as this roster is, there's no saying the team can't and won't finish second in the Eastern Conference. Taj Gibson is playing with confidence. Joakim Noah seems to be on a mission to prove his elite defensive status, as evident in the final three minutes in the All Star Game. Butler, the one game Kobe-stopper, will be given the late game minutes to guard the opposing team's second best scoring wing option. And the often overlooked Luol Deng will be limiting the opposing team's best scoring wing option.

Team defense travels well, shines, and helps offensively challenged teams win in March and April. The Bulls have been here before. A blowout loss, like the one to Denver in the middle of a long road trip, won't likely happen again. This team is due for a winning streak and the win against the Hornets is a good start.

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