Monday, 27 December 2010

Crucial games ahead

The Bulls' next 6 games will go a long way in determining how our season will unfold.

The opponents they face in those games: Milwaukee, New Jersey, Cleveland, Toronto, New Jersey and Philadelphia. Every single one has a record of below .500. Combined, they are 51-96. If the Bulls complete this set with a minimum record of 4-2 then they can call it a success. 4-2 is the minimum and I would expect a 6-0 run. Let's be honest, not one of these teams has the manpower to really contend with us for wins.

Tuesday 28th December; Milwaukee: The Bucks. Andrew Bogut at 100% is no bad player and in fact, is one to be feared. However a long lay-off means that he's hardly up to speed and a little out of sync and game-readiness. Ex-Bull John Salmons is also on the roster alongside Bogut. Give them space and they will score buckets. The Bulls will want to hit them hard and fast, knock the life out of them early before their confidence grows and before they feel like they can produce the upset.

Friday 31st December; New Jersey: The Nets are still the league's whipping boys. A better team than in recent years largely thanks to having Brook Lopez at Center. Very much like Noah/A'mare, a center who can score as well as rebound. So far this year, he's at 19.ppg which for a Center, is pretty good. With Noah, the Bulls would have assumed this is as near a gimme-win as it gets. Without him, Thibodeau has to decide whether Thomas, Asik or Gibson is up to the job of handling Lopez. Brook is a 7-footer, but I reckon that Omer and Kurt have the skill-set to handle him. If they contain the main scorer on the Nets, the next best is Farmar at 9.8ppg.

Saturday 1st January; Cleveland: Last time in Cleveland, we made this game a little tougher than it should have been. The Cavs are back where they were pre-Lebron - a losing machine. The team has no real star outside Mo Williams (yeah, not a star I know). They are a team of role players. Imagine taking Dwyane Wade from Miami last season and leaving that team to play on. They wouldn't cope without that leader, that inspiring person to rally around. Williams is good, Anderson Varejao is a capable defender and rebounder but again the Bulls should really outclass them and pick up another win.

Tuesday 4th January; Toronto: We played the Raptors earlier this month up in the big white country of moose and......syrup, and we came away with a win (110-93) that probably looked as comfortable on paper as it did on the court. The team played well and Toronto never really threatened after they were broken in the 3rd quarter. Despite a little run in the 4th quarter - The Rap's pulled it back from 91-64 to 99-86 - that ended with 3 consecutive Chicago 3-pointers in the last 2 minutes.

Wednesday 5th January; @ New Jersey: Another game against the Nets that should hopefully make a 4th win from this 6-game sequence.

Friday 7th January; @ Philadelphia: The 76ers were handed their backsides on a plate when they visited the United Center in mid-December. The Bulls had a 51-point lead midway through the 3rd quarter that eventually turned into a massive 45 point win, our biggest winning margin for a number of years. The Sixers are evidently not that hot as we proved previously, and a win against them would definitely help build the confidence ahead of a massive couple of games.

If we get through this 6-0 or even 5-1, we would be in as good a shape as possible (minus Noah, long term of course). The two games after this are both at home. The first against the East's best team - the Celtics. To compound the problems, Chicago play the night before in Philadelphia, meaning a late-night journey home for a huge clash.

If if's and but's were candy and nuts, wouldn't Christmas be Merry?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

No Crisis/2-guard Conundrum.

Don't hit the panic button just yet...

Joakim Noah is gone until at least the beginning of March. A long stretch that means he misses 30+ games. The meat of the season. Taj Gibson went out of the Clippers game with a concussion, and could now be out for Tuesday's game with the 76ers.

As it so happens, we lost to the Clippers. We should have won, Derrick Rose missed a Free-Throw with 0.8 seconds left. But if that's the situation, we deserved to lose. Many woke up Sunday morning in a bit of a funk, demanding the team sign another Big, that we are in a meltdown, a crisis, our season is over.

A painful sight for Bulls fans
It's not.

We won't beat teams like the Lakers or the Celtics without Joe, but even with him we struggled. We might struggle against teams we would have previously beaten, too. Joe was a huge inside presence, big on the boards at both ends and a key emotional leader too. His loss means that the Christmas Day game @ New York has probably become a more difficult proposition.

However, we don't need another Center. We have Taj, Omer Asik and Kurt Thomas. That's 3. Thomas only got in because of Noah's departure. Another Center would only be there to earn himself a DNP (Did Not Play) as a cheerleader on the bench. Besides, the chances of getting a starting-level or even 2nd unit center at short notice for a cut-down price are next to none. Taj can rebound. Taj can score (on his day) and Thomas, once he gets some minutes in him again, is a veteran player and he gave his all in defending Blake Griffin on Saturday. Ultimately he fouled out in 16 minutes, but he showed he still has it by taking a big charge off of Griffin and doing a much better job than any other Bulls player did all game.

Courtney Sims -
Possible replacementfor Joe?
Asik should probably be the starting Center. He lacks offensive scoring, yes, but his defensive play makes up for this. He is easily our best Help-Defender and is brilliant at screening for pick and rolls. I would love to see him given more minutes as he looks like he lacks confidence offensively and given minutes, this will be a problem that solves itself.

Relegate Gibson to the bench? Yes. He gives us a huge hit from the bench in rebounding and scoring when we need it most. He has good energy that can be crucial in cementing a run or stopping an opponent's run. Thomas is just rusty. Veterans never lose that instinct and he is as good a big man as we could pick up on a deal right now.

Another option now that Gibson is doutbful: Go get Courtney Sims. Consistently high rebounding numbers and scoring numbers with the Iowa Energy D-League team. A different option to Taj, Kurt and Omer at Center as he is a much more athletic player than the big, heavy style of the other 3. Definitely worth a shot if the worst comes to the worst and Thomas isn't up to the minutes or Taj goes out longer.


The 2 Guard Conundrum.

If the Bulls have serious designs on getting to the Eastern Conference Finals, Keith Bogans cannot be their starting Shooting Guard. He simply can't. He is good defensively, but so bad offensively that teams feel they can leave him wide open and use the extra man to double on Rose, Boozer or Joakim. When your starting 2 Guard is disrespected like this, you surely should get the message that he isn't good enough? Obviously not, as time after time Coach Thibs has started Bogans. And every time he does, it's like the Bulls are playing in a 4 on 5 situation offensively.

I admire his heart and defensive talents, stealing and disrupting plays. But really, we need a shooting guard who can shoot. Kyle Korver is not as skilled defensively, but he can shoot the 3-ball so well then it really doesn't matter. He is capable of stepping up defensively if Thibs coaches him to. Korver can also make Noah/Asik's screens look even more effective, as he can catch-and-shoot off these so sweetly. He is a player I would strongly consider starting at SG for a little while.

Ronnie Brewer. Anther option. Another better option than Bogans. His shot may look awkward, but it drops more often than not and he can defend too. I see him as a better version of Bogans already. I don't understand: Brewer plays starter's minutes from the bench, and Bogans playes bench-amount minutes as a starter. Why not put them in their place according to the number of minutes you actually give them?
Kyle Weaver: Hot property.

Option 3: EVERYONE! To the D-League!
Kyle Weaver: He's playing with the Bulls'/Suns' D-league Affiliate, The Iowa Energy, and has been touted to be signing deals with a couple of teams, Chicago and Washington are just two of them. Weaver has been consistent at that level and I don't really see why he's still down there. A welcome addition to the team and a deal could be reached with Iowa that could see James Johnson sent there as a replacement. JJ needs to either go there or be traded, DNP's are no use in the NBA and his space would then be taken by Weaver. John Lucas III might as well be sent there too. And bring up either Courtney Sims (see above) or Othyus Jeffers, another Iowa player setting the D-League alight. 21 points in the same game as Weaver/Sims' 50. The 3 combined for 71 points of the Energy's 104.

The Weaver-Sims partnership has been fundamental in Iowa's successes this season, a couple games back they combined to produce 50 points + 15 rebounds. The stats back up the theory here.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Bulls' Extended Christmas

There could be good times ahead for
a resurgent looking Chicago Bulls
Christmas lasts from now until mid-January for the Bulls. After a rough start featuring losses to Boston and Orlando, the Bulls have recovered with a win over Oklahoma and a huge win over the 2-time defending champion Lakers.

Then came a potential letdown. A match against the pretty poor Minnesota Timberwolves. Less than 24 hours after the Lakers performance, there was potential for an upset thanks to fatigue. The Bulls were having none of that and put in a performance typical of a top team, they dismissed the T-Wolves with relative ease, never falling behind and being able to play their bench exclusively in the 4th quarter. a 113-86 win was perfectly deserved.

Their next 12 games see just 1 of them against a team that has a winning record (the surprisingly good NY Knicks). Up next they take on the Toronto Raptors (9-15) to face a Raptors team that looks lost since Chris Bosh decided to cash his cheque and head off to Miami. A brief return back to Chi-Town for the Clippers (5-19) on the 18th and then on Tuesday it's the visit of Philadelphia (7-15). The Bulls next three games make up a little bit of a road-trip over the Christmas weekend: they visit the Capital to face off the Wizards (6-16) for the second time this season. A Christmas morning match-up with the only +.500 team at MSG in New York (15-9). The mini road-trip finishes in Detroit (7-18) against a Pistons team that just doesn't do anything anymore.

In the final week of 2010, the Bulls stay at home to play the Milwaukee Bucks - my tip for a loss here - who have been boosted by the return of Aussie Andrew Bogut. They also have their first match of 2 with New Jersey (6-17) in the space of 7 days.

We start 2011 with a nice little game against Cleveland (7-16), who we gave too much respect last week and almost lost to. It's home to Toronto again, then off to New Jersey and another game with Philadelphia round of the period of 'easiness.'

In 20 games from the beginning of December to the first half of January, the Bulls have a real chance of building a massive streak. Already on a 6-win streak (8 wins in 9 games), their next 12 games could see them win at least 10. New York and Milwaukee are two the only two games they could in my opinion. By the time Christmas Day comes around, Chi-Town could have it's first 10-win streak in a LONG time. If they mastermind a victory over the Knicks, who knows how many the number could reach.

One game at a time.