As we approach the halfway point of the 82 game NBA season, it starts to become much clearer which teams are pushing hard for a playoff berth and which teams wouldn’t mind slipping back into the lottery. When the Bulls unloaded Luol Deng for financial flexibility, it looked like they were planning on falling into the lottery and continuing to build toward the future. At 14-18, this was a logical conclusion. The Bulls were just on the edge of the playoff race and had just moved their leader in minutes played. Yet as the season rumbles on, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that nobody in Chicago’s locker room intends to miss the postseason.
Since Deng was traded, the Bulls have won three out of four, dropping their first game post-Deng last night against Washington. Chicago’s in the midst of a very easy stretch in the schedule, with nine of 11 upcoming games against sub-.500 opponents. Currently, the Bulls sit tied for 5th place in the East with Washington, just above Detroit, New York and Brooklyn. If you think Coach Tom Thibodeau and Joakim Noah would enjoy handing a playoff spot to one of those teams, I have a great investment opportunity for you with a sweet Nigerian prince. Behind Noah’s nightly triple double watch, the continued emergence of Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson (if they can stay on the floor), and the surprising effectiveness of DJ Augustin, the Bulls are a playoff team (in the Eastern Conference. The disparity between conferences is as laughable as ever, as only Indiana and Miami would make the playoffs out West).
So as the season churns on, don’t be surprised to see the Bulls take care of business against inferior and occasionally superior opponents. Jo and the guys in that locker room simply have too much pride to give up when all hope is lost. While I’ve made it clear that I think the Bulls are best suited to tank, it’s hard to complain about a team of players that refuse to give in. It’s not the players’ job to lose games, and it never should be. So as the Bulls keep winning in spite of their best interests, we may as well enjoy the ride. Joakim Noah’s don’t come around too often, no matter how hard you tank.