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Bulls Mon Mar 25 2013

The Bulls Are Unstoppable (In Their Last Two Games)

Bulls_200.pngIt's good to be a Bulls fan right now, if you ignore everything else that has happened to this team over the last year, and just focus on this current hope-bearing two game winning streak. The Bulls went from being the team nobody wanted to play in the playoffs earlier this year, to the team everyone wants to play as of late, and now back to being the team nobody wants to play, pending a clean bill of health.

Just when Bulls fans were ready to tap out for the season, the team shows some fight. Against the Indiana Pacers sans emotional and physical leader, Joakim Noah, the Bulls had seat fillers like Nazr Mohammed (11 points, seven rebounds) and Daequan Cook (nine points, five rebounds) play inspired basketball to help defeat Central Division-leading Indiana, 87-84.

On Sunday, the Bulls were again without Noah and Marco Belinelli, who was out with an ab strain (cue the bad Twitter jests of wordplay involving "Beli" and "Belly"). The Bulls out-rebounded the Minnesota Timberwolves by 20 on their way to a 104-97 win. Hustle and extra efforts helped Taj Gibson (12 points, 11 rebounds) and Jimmy Butler (20 points, nine rebounds, and three steals) lead their always shorthanded roster to the team's second back-to-back win streak since the All Star break.

Luol Deng was in rare form both nights. He was aggressive. Deng at times makes his defensive intensity seem effortless, but on offense he sometimes plays an effortless game. Against Portland on Thursday, Deng mustered a scant five points and dished just two assists. All year long on offense, Deng has had no sense of urgency -- probably because he knows he's going to play 40 minutes every night, so he'll have plenty of opportunity to score. He's saved up some scoring spurts, and may finally be cashing them in.

Over the last two games he's scored 37 points and contributed 14 rebounds. Back on March 11, I called for Deng to step it up on the stats sheet, and since then the production is still on par with what he's done all year. In that six game span he's averaged 16 points and four rebounds, a bit less than his season averages. The encouraging thing here is that Deng is looking like he's getting more involved. Deng took it to All Star Paul George on Saturday by shooting 50% from the floor and getting to the free throw line 10 times, which is seven times more than his season average. If Deng can keep this up on this unassuming winning streak and if the team can put to rest the redundant injury reports, then the Bulls can do some real damage in the playoffs, well, in round one at least.

Playoff seeding is the biggest non-battle this team is engaged in. The better team wins an NBA playoff series almost all of the time. If in the NBA post-season format, the bracket-dismantler that is Florida Gulf Coast University probably loses a seven game series to Georgetown or San Diego State in five games. So the idea that the Bulls shouldn't finish fourth or fifth because they would draw the Miami Heat in round two, and that they should instead finish sixth or seventh, would be merely delaying the inevitable for no beneficial reason. Seeding doesn't matter if you can't beat a team in four out of seven games. The Bulls have played poorly at home this season, and the Miami Heat are a buzz saw with the killswitch disengaged. Teams may tank in the NBA for a better lottery pick, but in playoff seeding, the chips must fall where they may.

Can you remember the last Chicago team's fan base that has had to go through what this team has in the last 11 months? Championship aspirations shattered, fiscal responsibility at the expense of useful personnel, ceaseless injuries, not to mention the daunting and pious Derrick Rose updates filled with uncertainty in the short term.

Don't feel bad if you get genuinely upset at the Bulls' play. It's not for a lack of effort why they've lost, which is maddening, but because they're just not a complete team. Basketball, like any sport, is an entertaining escape, and this year has been anything but. I've embarrassed myself by yelling defeatist remarks at unresponsive television sets in sports bars. I routinely have shot dirty looks at my laptop when researching advanced stats of this current team. In plain speak, I wished this season was over like most of you. However, the darkest days are behind us. The Miami Heat return to the United Center on Wednesday and still may have their ostentatious winning streak intact, which should prepare the Bulls for the type of unreachable intensity they'll need to beat this focused Heat team come playoff time.

We've all have had our hopes crushed this year, so really all this team can do is surprise us, pleasantly speaking. So hang on, and enjoy the mild ride of this two-game win streak and start preparing for the much needed entertaining escape that can be playoff basketball.

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