And Now For Something Completely Different
The Bulls out hustled and outplayed the Mavericks early, and opened a big lead in the first quarter. But for a brief scare (scare is probably too strong a word) in the fourth, the Bulls were never even challenged.
The Mavs entered the game on an 8 game winning streak. They had won 21 out of their last 22 games. Their 7.33 scoring margin is third in the NBA behind the Suns and Spurs, and they're second in the league in scoring margin over the last 10 games. They are third in the league in offensive efficiency, and sixth in defensive efficiency. The Mavs are a very good basketball team.
And yet the Bulls manhandled them. The Bulls' starting five was plus-15 in their first stint together to start the game. Ben Gordon had 12 first quarter points and Luol Deng had eight. The Bulls led 23-6 before the Mavs started to chip away. But just when the Mavs climbed to within single digits mid-way through the second quarter, the Bulls stretched the lead back out. This time, starters Gordon, Deng and Ben Wallace, were joined by Chris Duhon and Andres Nocioni.
One of the keys to the Bulls success last night, and this season in general, is that they have nine legitimate contributors. Wallace, PJ Brown and Tyrus Thomas have become a productive-enough front court rotation, and its one that rebounds and plays excellent defense. The forward combo of Deng and Nocioni provides a little bit of everything, and their aggressive drives produce most of the Bulls' easy baskets. And in the back court, Gordon has become a quality scoring threat, Kirk Hinrich remains the team's "veteran" leader, and Duhon and Thabo Sefolosha provide depth that most teams would be envious of.
Twice more the Mavs would make runs. In the third quarter the Bulls starters posted an 8-0 run late in the quarter to reestablish a double digit lead. In the fourth, the Mavs crept within three late, before the Bulls starting five once again put the game out of reach with five unanswered points, and then a 10-2 run.
Since the reinsertion of Brown and Gordon into the starting line-up, that group has been playing well. Brown looks much more comfortable, following up a double digit performance against Atlanta with 12 points last night on 6 of 11 shooting. Brown is now +10.8 per 48 minutes, the best among Chicago's regulars. Gordon has become a legitimate NBA scorer. Efforts like last night's 30 point outing are becoming routine. Among the starters, only Wallace didn't score in double digits last night, and he had 17 rebounds.
The Bulls are pushing the ball successfully, shooting earlier in the shot clock than their opponents, which is when teams tend to have their highest effective field goal percentage. In the Bulls' case, their eFG% in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock is .534. They're under 49% at every other segment of clock usage. So, it's a good thing that the team is now taking 41% of its shots early in the shot clock.
Quality depth, a consistent starting five, aggressively pushing the ball -- these are just a few reasons why the Bulls are emerging as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. Now, that's sort of like being the team to beat in the NFC, but look where that has gotten the Bears. (See, now I've fulfilled my civic duty to mention the Bears).
The Bulls have the best scoring margin in the East by a mile. They've done this mostly by winning blowouts. They're 11-5 in games decided by 15 points or more. Research has shown that blowing out opponents, and not getting blown out yourself, is a much better indicator of a team's quality than its record in close games, which are often decided by luck. Their blowout flow from their defense. They rank second in the league whether you measure by field goal percentage against, or defensive efficiency.
There are plenty of teams who can derail the Bulls in the East. Washington, Cleveland, Detroit, Miami, maybe even Orlando or Toronto. Always bet the field against an individual team. But right now the Bulls are the best team in the Eastern Conference, and you saw all the reasons why last night.