The Bulls head out on their two-week long circus trip while the United Center is being preoccupied, giving them a chance to knock out a long road trip early in the season.
But this trip won’t be as strenuous and arduous as it usually has been in previous years, giving this team a lot of off-time and chance to close quarters as a unit.
Like last season, the Bulls head west with a 7-3 record and also like last season, Derrick Rose’s status is on a bit of shaky ground, as his left ankle sprain has him listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Phoenix, the first of the three-game western leg that’ll be completed in the next seven days.
Rose missed the first four games of the seven-game trip with injury, a left hamstring ailment that seemed to bother him upon returning midway through the trip. This time around, an ankle sprain is fairly common and shouldn’t be such a huge cause of concern although it’s hard to tell Bulls nation not to feel a certain way.
“That’s too far ahead,” said Rose after the Bulls’ 96-95 win over the Pacers Monday night. “Right now I just need to get treatment, put some ice on it for a little bit. After this, just get off my feet and put more ice on it.”
He’ll have plenty of time to recover until Friday’s game in Oakland, where the Bulls are the last team to beat the NBA champion Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena in the regular season, a thriller last January.
“It’s exciting, it gives us a chance to bond as a team,” Rose said. “We have a young group. I’m one of the veterans on the team. It gives us a chance to really come together as a team, go out and learn more about each other and help us grow.”
If this trip is to be successful, Monday’s win is as good a primer as possible considering their pretty offense slowed to a crawl in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter and they had to rely on their old standby, tough defense.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has coyly put more defensive-minded units on the floor in second halves, choosing to sit the likes of Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic for Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson—a clear message that he’s not just an offensive coach and has some idea of what this team’s foundation has been over the last several years—a foundation that has served them well.
“Defensive effort, you really can’t strategize for that,” Jimmy Butler said. “You can have schemes but you gotta play hard. We got guys that play crazy hard. They take it personal when they get scored on, so when it’s time to get stops we get stops.”
Butler, the man who blocked Paul George’s fadeaway jumper with seconds remaining, has clearly been preaching defense early in the season, along with Rose.
“The talk is always gonna be there, we can’t get involved in that,” Rose said. “Our job is to believe in each other, play well and get better individually.”
[NBC SHOP: Get your Bulls gear right here]
The Bulls will be tested defensively, particularly on the perimeter during the trip by explosive backcourts. Phoenix’s tandem of Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe can go a mile a minute, as Knight just finished a 30-point, 15-rebound, 10-assist triple-double performance against the Lakers.
Golden State’s backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the best in basketball, period. Curry leads the NBA in scoring at 33.4 points per game and is unguardable.
And while the Portland Trailblazers are struggling at 4-8, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are both putting up over 20 points a night, with Lillard scoring 25.3 points a night, good for eighth in the league.
“It’s tough on the road, the crowd’s against us,” Butler said.
And not only that, the guards standing across the way will put up shots all night, every night.