Whether it was when 12 of 13 games came against 2021 playoff teams at the beginning of December or when the team faced a league-high 22 games in 36 days before the All-Star break, I assumed the Chicago Bulls’ hardest days were behind them.
We all know what they say when you assume.
Only 23 games separate the Chicago Bulls and their first postseason berth since the 2016-17 season. And, alas, those 23 games will be much closer to a walk in Bowser’s Castle than a walk in the park. According to Tankathon, the Bulls are faced with the second-toughest remaining schedule in the league behind only the Milwaukee Bucks. Ask Positive Residual, and they place the Bulls in the exact same spot behind only the Los Angeles Lakers (FWIW: Tankathon has the Lakers 3rd).
Twelve of the Bulls’ final 23 games will come against teams that currently rank in the top-6 of their respective conference. Nine of those challenging matchups will come against Eastern Conference squads, including three against the fifth-place Milwaukee Bucks, two against the tied-for-first-place Miami Heat, two against the fourth-place Cleveland Cavaliers, and one against the third-place Philadelphia 76ers and sixth-place Boston Celtics. Against those five teams this season, the Chicago Bulls are a combined 2-8.
Expand to include the matchups in the West with the Suns, Grizzlies, and Jazz, and the Chicago Bulls hold just a 3-10 record. Considering the team’s injury trouble, this specific record against similarly elite teams doesn’t tell the whole story, but it doesn’t have to. The Bulls will not be at full strength when this new gauntlet starts after the All-Star break, so they must come prepared to play some of their best basketball of the season to stay competitive for the East’s top spot.
Fortunately for them, a five-game winning streak prior to this much-needed break does have the momentum on their side. Not only has DeMar DeRozan continued to play at MVP-level this season, but Nikola Vucevic has returned to his All-Star self. The big man has been a pivotal part of this team’s midseason success, averaging 24.1 points, 13.2 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game over his previous 10 games. The Bulls will ask for this same kind of balanced effort from Vucevic when the games pick back up later this week, as plenty of dominant big men appear on the schedule over the next six games.
Take a look …
Feb. 24th – vs. Atlanta
Feb. 26th – vs. Grizzlies
Feb. 28th – @ Miami
March 3rd – @ Atlanta
March 4th – vs. Milwaukee
March 6th – @ Philadelphia
To add insult to (literal and figurative) injury, the Bulls will also see 13 of these next 23 games on the road. Starting March 14th, eight of nine-consecutive games will be played in another team’s arena, with the only saving grace being a five-game home stint to begin April.
To be the best, you need to beat the best, and the Bulls have the opportunity to do just that. I do think this will prove to be a necessary test that only helps them better understand what it takes to go on a deep playoff run. However, I’d also be lying if I said this isn’t a worrisome or frustrating way to close the season. Adversity has already been plenty prevalent in the team’s story, and we still do not know for certain when/if a fully-healthy squad will take the floor. So could the basketball gods seriously not offer a slight break? Oh, well.