Bulls

Bulls blessed with favorable schedule?

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Bulls blessed with favorable schedule?

After some time to digest the Bulls' daunting 2011-12 regular-season schedule, it would be a reach to call it favorable -- that can't be said of any NBA team -- but while the 66-game slate will be rough on everybody, Chicago is better equipped than most to handle it. Some of that has to do with the team's actual talent, youth, depth and cohesiveness from their 62-win regular season a year ago, but how the games play out also gives the Bulls an advantage.

First of all, a look back at their success on the road last season and dominant mark at the United Center has to be taken into consideration for a team that brings back a mostly intact roster. But while the Bulls have a league-high (along with the Spurs) nine-game road swing -- remember the success of their November circus trip, the first time they had a winning record on the annual occurrence since the Jordan era? -- they're also one of the few squads that's only required to play one back-to-back-to-back (against the Pistons in Chicago, at Minnesota and back to the United Center to host the Wizards; certainly not the toughest trio of NBA teams) this season.

Speaking of that nine-game trip, which begins Jan. 29, while it starts off with the first of four matchups with the Heat, it's hardly a murderer's row of opponents, as only the Knicks and Celtics can be regarded as marquee foes. Not to say the Bulls -- especially not head coach Tom Thibodeau, who swears to reporters a last-place team heading into the last contest of the season is the biggest test his players have faced all year -- will take anybody lightly, but outside of a tough five-game stretch in March against five 2011 playoff teams (four of which are at the United Center) and a difficult month of April, they don't have many consecutive games against the league's upper-echelon teams.

For example, from the season opener until the All-Star break, the Bulls only play consecutive games against teams that participated in the previous postseason three times in 35 games; only 15 of 35 games are against 2011 playoff teams. Now, the Bulls' second-half slate does get tougher and even teams that made the playoffs last year will inevitably make player transactions, for better or worse between Friday's start to free agency and the February trade deadline, but the aforementioned factors an already-formidable squad going for itself bode well for Chicago.

Conditioning, motivation and preparation aren't the cause of severe fretting for the Bulls (at least compared to many other teams), but one area that can't be controlled, health, is something that can be mitigated by the team's depth at every position, with the exception of point guard -- no disrespect to C.J. Watson, but while Taj Gibson and Omer Asik can, at minimum, approximate the production of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, it's tough to make up for the absence of the league's MVP, although Watson did pour in 39 points, albeit in a loss, in Derrick Rose's lone DNP of last season. That said, getting off to a quick start, something their chemistry suggests in possible, will be significant to the Bulls' regular-season success, and while the excessive travel and amount of games packed into short spans will ultimately take a toll, it appears the fates (or league office) were favorable to the Bulls, who have a couple of relatively long homestands and mercifully, multiple off days between games toward the back end to balance out some of their cross-country excursions.

Take a look at the schedule, study it based on the teams the Bulls play and not the actual calendar, and come to your own conclusion.

One thing's for sure: They won't win as many games as last season.

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

It's been a whirlwind of a summer for point guard Tyler Ulis, but he finally feels like he's found a home. Literally.

The 5-foot-9 point guard was cut by the Suns in late June, latched on with a training camp invite by the Warriors and was subsequently waived on Friday. It was then that Ulis, working out in California, received a call from his agent. He had been claimed on waivers by the Chicago Bulls. His hometown Bulls.

"I grew up watching (the Bulls)," he said after his first practice on Tuesday. "Growing up in this city, you always want to be a Bull and you’re always willing and hoping that you’ll be here one day...I'm home now. It's a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to it."

Ulis is back in Chicago for the first time since he was breaking records for Marian Catholic High School. Ulis became a five-star recruit for the Spartans and in 2014 signed on as the next point guard in the long line of successful floor generals under John Calipari and Kentucky.

Ulis backed up the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, as a freshman but saw his role increase as a sophomore. He blossomed, earning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the SEC. Only Anthony Davis had ever earned both honors in a single season.

He declared for the 2016 NBA Draft with hopes of becoming a first-round pick. But unlike the Calipari point guards before him, Ulis slipped all the way down to the second round before the Phoenix Suns scooped him up with the 34th pick.

"Honestly I really did think (the Bulls) were going to draft me," Ulis said on Tuesday when recalling the 2016 NBA Draft. The Bulls took Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick. "But I'm here now so that's all that matters."

In 132 games, Ulis averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists in 21.1 minutes. He started 58 of those games, and while his shooting left plenty to be desired he handled the offense well and brought that same pesky defense he showed off at Kentucky. It wasn't enough, even for the guard-deprived Suns. They released Ulis before free agency this summer - which ruffled the feathers of franchise guard Devin Booker - in a rather unexpected move.

"My Mom always taught me (to) never expect anything," Ulis said of his release from the Suns. "When you're on a losing team like that anything can happen. I feel like I showed I could play at this level but they went a different way."

The Suns' loss - they may resort to starting 38-year-old Jamal Crawford at point guard this year - could be the Bulls' gain. Expectations should be harnessed for Ulis, especially with him joining the roster this late in the preseason, but the Bulls, like Phoenix, have question marks at the point.

Kris Dunn is entrenched as the starter, but Cameron Payne struggled mightily in the preseason and Ryan Arcidiacono doesn't project as a contributor. That leaves an opening for Ulis to potentially fill on the second unit, and apparently he's making a statement early in practice.

"Tyler had a real good practice," Fred Hoiberg said. "I think I think he changes the pace when he’s out there on the floor. He picks up full-court, he gets up underneath you. He can make a shot. He’s got good vision and can make a play with the ball in his hand. So I was very impressed with his first workout."

Ulis is working on a 45-day two-way contract, so it's unknown how much he'll contribute. He could be shuttled back and forth between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, but there's certainly an opportunity for him to stick. He'll be playing catch-up and learning on the go, but doing so in his hometown wth friends and family around him for support will work to his advantage.

"Being a smaller guard growing up in a big man’s sport, you get looked over. So I’m the underdog," he said. "And I feel like this team is an underdog, so we should all be excited to get the season started and prove people wrong."