Bulls

Bulls blessed with favorable schedule?

596436.png

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 Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to Lauri Markkanen’s injury and loss to Kings

lavine-124.jpg
USA TODAY

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to Lauri Markkanen’s injury and loss to Kings

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 98-81 loss to the Kings.

1:00 - Reaction to the loss and LaVine getting double-teamed

2:50 - On Jim Boylen saying don’t expect system changes with Markkanen hurt

4:25 - Sabine’s list of things that have happened since the last time the Kings made the playoffs in 2006

5:35 - Viewer comment on LaVine and Coby

6:40 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine

8:00 - On the importance of 1st vs 3rd quarter

9:00 - Viewer comment on possible trades

11:00 - Viewer comment on seeing Bulls without Markkanen

14:30 - On Lauri Markkanen’s hip injury and missing 4-6 weeks

18:40 - Viewer comment asking if Bulls should shut down Markkanen

19:50 - Hey Matt Peck, did you see what DRose did tonight?

21:15 - Viewer comment on what to expect from Lauri when he returns

23:40 - Viewer asking the greatest moment the Outsiders have witnessed

24:55 - On NBA naming the All-Star starters

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Without Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine's job will only get more difficult

Without Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine's job will only get more difficult

It’s been the most pressing on-court issue facing the Bulls all season — in a season full of them:

Outside of Zach LaVine, where do the points come from?

The glare of that question is only set to amplify with Lauri Markkanen now set to miss four to six weeks with a pelvic injury. Take Friday's 98-81 defeat at the hands of the Kings as an example. LaVine tallied 21 — his 13th consecutive game with 20 or more. Thad Young chipped in 10; Kris Dunn did, too. But the rest of the team mustered 40, and the Bulls finished with 81 points against the Kings’ 18th-rated defense.

For a stretch — a 109-second one, to start the second half — it appeared LaVine might single-handedly save the day, as he has before. He opened the third quarter with 10 quick points to shave a 10-point halftime deficit to two after tallying eight in the first two periods combined.

But the Kings clamped up. The rest of the way, LaVine scored only thrice and was ever on the run from one, two or three Sacramento defenders at a time, depending on the possession. The Bulls’ dearth of scoring around him made the gameplan a simple one: Cut the head off the snake. LaVine finished just 8-for-21 from the field, and the Bulls scored 12 fourth quarter points.

“I think they did a good job of that,” Jim Boylen said of the Kings’ throwing waves of bodies LaVine’s way. “Zach's a primary guy and they treated him like a primary guy. He got up 21 shots. You know, six rebounds. I thought he tried.”

This storyline isn’t going away. Three of the Bulls’ top five scorers (Marrkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr.) are sidelined and weeks (at least) away from return. Young, steady as he is, isn’t going to transform into a consistent 20-point scorer overnight. Tomas Satoransky and Coby White represent the Bulls’ best chance of secondary explosions on a night-to-night basis — but against Sacramento, they combined for 16 points on 4-for-16 shooting.

“I mean, [opponents have] been doing that,” LaVine said of the double and triple-teams he received Friday. “We gotta get somebody to step up, and I think we'll find it. It's the first game without Lau [Lauri Markkanen]. We'll figure out what we gotta do in Cleveland.”

Easier said than done. Down another primary 3-point threat in Markkanen, the Bulls shot 8-for-37 from deep tonight, the fifth time in seven games they’ve made less than 10 3-pointers. They’re now 2-13 on the season when they make less than 10 3s.

“Will we have to adjust some things and maybe play a little differently? Maybe,” Jim Boylen said of the team’s shooting. “I'll evaluate with the shots we got and what else we had. But I'm not gonna reinvent the wheel in January, I'm not gonna do that.”

The Bulls — spearheaded by Boylen and LaVine — insist they’re going to keep plugging. Still, an offense already third-to-last in the league in offensive rating just lost another cog, and the impact was apparent. LaVine already carried as great an offensive load as anyone in the league. Now, if he didn’t already, he’ll receive as much attention as anyone, too.

“That's up to coach. I'm prepared for everything. I think my conditioning's [good], so we'll see, maybe I gotta do that,” LaVine said of potentially taking on more minutes.

And of the injuries: “Nobody's gonna feel bad for you. They're just gonna try to take advantage of it.”

The Kings did that successfully tonight. The Bulls hope it doesn't prove a foreshadowing.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.