The Best of Times?

Has it really been that long since Chicago Bulls fans felt the excitement of a team that felt on the verge? A superstar who followed up his rookie of the year, with a mesmerizing MVP season, with a coach that extracted a gritty defensive underdog tenacity fed the imaginations of fans around the city.

It wasn't so much if we could make it into the playoffs, or how far we could go, but how often could we expect this year after year.

Oh how those times have changed, and turned.

The joy was replaced by desolation and despair. Everything that seemed to go right, found more and more ways to go wrong. Instead of thinking how many times we would get to see them in the playoffs, we began to think how long would it be until things fell apart again.

That brings us to tonight. Round 2, Game 6. The Bulls on the verge of playoff elimination. 

We had given up hope that we could see Derrick Rose perform again, or perform again in the playoffs at a reasonable level. But here we are again. Nothing is guaranteed, but indeed nothing is guaranteed. The story isn't over until the chapter ends or the book is closed.

Will the Bulls live to fight another day (Sunday in this case for Game 7) or will the story end for this team and this season tonight?

The best of times? Let's see if this team can put together 48 minutes with no regrets, and if that's enough to keep the story going.

Let the good times roll! #BullsNation #ChicagoBasketball #SeeRed #GoBulls


Round 2, Game 2: Quick Thoughts

Up 1-0, the Bulls have accomplished winning one of the first two games. However, with Smith suspended for one more game, might as well be greedy and steal another.

In breaking news, LeBron returns to wear the headband! Does this unleash a more aggressive James, or will we see the same inconsistent jumper, and isolation plays from Game 1?

Will Cleveland have a defensive strategy for defending the Gasol pick and pop from the top of the key? What about the Dunleavy corner 3s? How often will James rest from guarding Butler? Will they sag off Noah even more to dare him to shoot?

Snell got limited playing time in favor of Hinrich. Mirotic had few chances as well. Both were due to the big early lead and the play of the starters. Wouldn't mind seeing more Gibson-Gasol, where Noah is pulled at the 6 minute mark.

Do they switch Shumpert on Rose earlier? The Bulls opened with a better pace but stagnated once the subs started.

Bulls had a low turnover game, and James had a high turnover game. Bulls had fewer free throws for most of the game.

Keys to the game? Fast pace, but not sloppy. Look to run. Limit turnovers and second chances and hopefully they'll have the Cavs in an 0-2 hole.


Eastern Conference Semifinals Cavs-Bulls Preview

In the off-season, we all thought that this would be the Eastern Conference Finals, instead of the Semifinals. But the Atlanta Hawks swooped in, and knocked everyone down a notch.

Both Cleveland and Chicago haven't played perfect seasons, but thanks to their residence in the Eastern Conference, they're both the second and third seed respectively.

What do I expect to see in the series? The quickest take, is that this is going to be a battle between James and Irving versus Butler and a combination of Rose/Gasol/Noah and a deeper bench. If James and Irving impose their will, this series may not last longer than 6. If the Bulls offense (instead of their defense) can dictate the pace, this is a series that may not need 7 games for the Bulls to advance.

That being said, here's things to look for.

Lebron James in chill mode

For most of the season, and even during the Boston series, James has had the luxury of not having to unleash his fully array of talents and skills on offense or defense. This is likely the series he removes the limiters and activates the nitro more often times than not. Compared to previous years, the Bulls have two defenders that can hold their own against James in Butler and Snell. However, the Bulls have been careless with the ball, even in the postseason, serving up a buffet of cross court passes and lazy entry passes that James tends to feast on for psychologically damaging fast break dunks.

A DRose by any other name

For an eternity, many Bulls teams have waited for The Return of DRose. Unfortunately, and as Game 5 against Milwaukee demonstrated, it has led to a mindset that his mere presence guarantees a win. In the season, and in the playoffs, there have been glimpses of what we remember: the speed, power and strength to get shots that are tough to defend against. We have also seen the benefit of all his time off, in that his passing IQ and focus on defense has improved. However, he's still plagued by inconsistency, and when he loses focus, as he famously did on the Game 4 game winning shot, it can be disastrous. It also seems that he's done well, when he gets more than 2 days off between games. Which DRose can consistently show up will be a huge advantage for the Bulls.

"Is this what the playoffs are like?" 
The United Center was in playoff mode for the home opener against the Cavs, and Irving asked the above late in the 4th quarter of a game that the Cavs would win. It's likely he will not be blinded by the playoff lights. But his performance and the performance of another first time playoff performer, Nikola Mirotic will dictate the course of this series.

Notorious B-I-G-S
Both frontlines will make or break this series. Mosgov and Thompson (and the occasional cameo by Perkins) will attempt to offset the defense bending abilities that they lost by losing Kevin Love for the playoffs. The Bulls will have an easy time when Noah is active and productive on both ends of the floor. On offense, Noah needs to be a threat to score outside and in, which will open up passing and scoring opportunities. Defensively, he'll need to limit Cleveland offensive rebounds, which hurt in the regular season. Expect Gasol to get primarily mid-range looks, and to get drawn into pick and roll situations to pull him out of the paint. Gibson and Mirotic will be situationally combined based on need.

The Intangibles
David Blatt is a first time coach, Thibs isn't. However, both Randy Wittman and now Jason Kidd seem to have had better game plans in consecutive series against this coaching staff. JR Smith is out for two games, but Cleveland could win without him. Dunleavy is an underrated key to the Bulls spacing, and when Milwaukee eliminated his shot opportunities the Bulls offense went into the toilet in Game 5. I somehow get the feeling that Hinrich is going to get more minutes than people expect in this series. In Game 2, less early cheering led to a win and in Game 5 more early cheering led to a loss. I expect to go the less cheering model in Game 3.

We have waited for this series all season, now it is just put up or shut up. Either team can make it out of this series and end up in the NBA Finals, but one step at a time. If there is any time to BULL-ieve, why not now?

Bulls in 7.


Chicago Bulls 2015 Playoff Preview

So we're finally here again. Has it really been 5 years since the Bulls played in the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals and it felt like we were going to be in it every year?

A lot has changed, a lot of new faces, and some rumors of familiar faces leaving.

If there is one optimistic/delusional thing that I can hold on to, it is the fact that the organization, including the coaching staff, despite the public appearance or perception has taken a very conservative approach to handling injuries. In past seasons, players have fought through injuries to win regular season games, only to have those injuries reduce their effectiveness in the playoffs. Keep in mind that the Bulls still won 50 games this season.

All that matters now is how well they do in the playoffs. Realistically, the minimum expectation is to advance easily out of the first round. Optimistically, it will be to compete and possibly beat the presumed best team in the East in the second round, if both teams advance. After that, anything is possible!

Here's some player projections/notes going into Round 1.

(Disclosure: Updated to add Taj!)

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Playoffs!! (2015 Edition)

Sorry for the radio silence, but we're back!

Let's start off with some quick predictions for Round 1.

Western Conference

#1 Golden State vs #8 New Orleans - Golden State in 5

Expect Anthony Davis to make a statement in this series, and to help steal a game in New Orleans. 

#2 Houston vs #7 Dallas - Houston in 7

Coaching will keep Dallas in this series, but despite the injuries, Houston should prevail.

#3 Los Angeles Clippers vs #6 San Antonio - San Antonio in 7

Will the difference in home court ultimately make a difference here? Tough to pick against San Antonio as they have been playing at a high level going into the playoffs.

#4 Portland vs #5 Memphis - Memphis in 6

Without Wes Matthews, Portland has been at a disadvantage. Memphis should be able to close this out in fairly bland fashion.

Eastern Conference

#1 Atlanta vs #8 Brooklyn - Atlanta in 4

I expect low ratings and low highlights in this series.

#2 Cleveland vs #7 Boston - Cleveland in 5

Could Boston steal a game 3 or 4 at home? The first two games in Cleveland will not be pretty.

#3 Chicago vs #6 Milwaukee - Chicago in 5

My initial instinct suggests that this will be a sweep. The casual fan impression is that this will be a defensive struggle. The reality is that the Bucks are strong at defense, weak at offense. The Bulls are strong at defense and offense this season. Presuming full strength, the series will be fun and competitive and over in 5 or less games.

#4 Toronto vs #5 Washington - Toronto in 7

Will Washington rediscover their playoff magic from last season? Both teams have higher expectations than last season's playoff appearances, but one of these two will be going home unhappy. 

Ferguson - Transparency

St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch decided to immediately release as much evidence as possible to the general public immediately after the decision not to indict Darren Wilson:

Was this an attempt to be completely transparent? Or cynically, was this an attempt to further step away for taking responsibility for the duties of his office? Rather than make the decision and have it clearly on his office, and largely him, he offloaded it to a grand jury who we will never meet. Additionally, by releasing the information to people that don't typically look at this information, and allowing them to make their own decisions, it increases the amount of noise on the discussion, further diluting his role in all of this. That's the cynical way to look at it.

One piece from the packet of interest, is Darren Wilson's testimony.

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Ferguson - A Matter of Trust

After 108 days, tonight will mark the hopeful beginning of the healing process for the community of Ferguson. The Ferguson grand jury has made a decision in whether to pursue a criminal indictment of Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. 

No matter where you stand on this, tonight's response to the decision will come down to a matter of trust. 

Does the community trust that the grand jury was impartial, fair and thorough in its decision? 

Does local and state law enforcement trust that people will peacefully express their freedom of speech, no matter the result, no matter the presence of the National Guard? 

Does anyone trust the decision making process that allowed the announcement to be made at night? Low light and visibility appears to favor those that will abuse their rights to protect or protest under the cover of darkness and the shadows of chaos. 

I hope and pray for the best. I still trust that people feel the same as I do.