Running of the Bulls
I'll admit that a couple of weeks ago I was afraid that Scott Skiles' warranty had just expired. But I also realized near the end of the Circus Trip that the club had played a preposterously tough schedule and was likely to rebound just by virtue of reaching an easier part of its season. It only took back to back games with the Knicks to set them on the right course.
What I did not anticipate was how well this team would start playing. They're not just beating weak opponents, they're dominating them, as a good team should. Last night they whipped Philly 121-94. The game was over in the 1st quarter, as the Bulls led 39-16 at the end of one. Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni, Ben Wallace and Chris Duhon all contributed, but it was Ben Gordon who did the most damage. He replaced Kirk Hinrich, who had picked up two fouls chasing Allen Iverson, at the six minute mark. In 6:13, Gordon dropped 17 points.
In the 2nd quarter, the Bulls were actually outscored 32-30, but they still took a 21 point lead into the half. The most exciting thing about the 2nd quarter was the team's leading scorer. Tyrus Thomas led the Bulls with nine points and three rebounds in a little less than six minutes of 2nd quarter action. Thomas looked like a top draft pick last night, despite the idiot behind me who yelled "Stacey Queen" every time he touched the ball.
Seven Bulls reached double figures in all, including Deng, who scored 21, and continued to be the reliable scoring option the team needs. Only two Bulls failed to score: Mike Sweetney and, suprisingly, Hinrich. Hinrich was limited to 11 minutes by early foul trouble and Gordon's hot hand. He appeared to be sulking on the end of the bench as the team raced away to a win. I haven't seen any reports of discontent, either with him or by him, so hopefully he was just frustrated with his own effort and the officiating, which together prevented him from covering Iverson without fouling him. Speaking of Iverson, Duhon did a decent job on him, and Thabo Sefolosha did a rather remarkable job on him in the brief time he was on the floor.
The Bulls have reached .500; they have the 4th best record in the weak Eastern Conference; they're only two games behind Detroit and Cleveland; they've already played the toughest stretch on their schedule; and none of Detroit, Cleveland, or Orlando -- the three teams with better records -- is so much better than the Bulls, that Chicago couldn't take them in a seven game series. Neither are the Nets or One Man Gang Heat. In other words, the Bulls are a legitimate threat to win the conference championship. That thought is almost too strange to process, especially given where the team was a couple of weeks ago, but isn't this where this team was supposed to be after shelling out top dollar for Ben Wallace?