Written by: Dennis Vilimek – Staff Writing Intern (@dvilimek25)
Beating the Brooklyn Nets by two points at home may not sound pretty, but the Bulls’ win Wednesday night was exactly what they needed. The Bulls trailed almost the entire second half and were down by seven with under three minutes left in the game. It was looking like another bad loss to one of the NBA’s worst teams until Jimmy Butler took over and eventually hit the game-winning jumper. This type of comeback win in front of their home crowd should give the Bulls momentum moving forward as they try to bring their record above the .500 mark.
The Bulls have been disappointing and extremely inconsistent this year. With the acquisitions of All-Star guards Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to go along with the rising superstar in Jimmy Butler, there was plenty of hope for this team to claim a high seed in the East. They currently hold the 8th seed, but teams like Washington, Detroit, and Indiana right below them in the standings. The Bulls have proven that they can compete with and beat any team in the league with wins against the Cavs, Spurs, Jazz, and Celtics. With this being said, they sometimes forget to show up for games and have suffered losses against the Mavs and Lakers while also getting blown out at home by the Bucks. The Bulls are tough to figure out, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that they can make a run and claim the 3rd or 4th seed in the East.
It is obvious that the play of Butler and D-Wade is crucial for the Bulls to be successful, but this team will only rise in the East if their bench stays healthy. Michael Carter-Williams has returned from his knee and wrist injuries, and he is arguably the most important player on the bench. The Bulls are 5-0 when Carter-Williams has played this year, as he adds much needed depth to the point guard position. He is a major upgrade from Isiah Canaan and Jerian Grant, and the bench unit has a much better flow when he is on the court. Another injury-plagued member of the Bull’s bench that has recently returned is Doug McDermott. He has shown flashes of explosiveness to go along with his three-point shot, so if he can find a rhythm he has the capability of being a double-digit scorer off the bench. A final key member of the bench unit that has been heating up lately is Nikola Mirotic. This pump faking machine has been putting in more effort on the defensive end and is a threat from three-point range. These three players can turn around the Bull’s second unit that has struggled throughout the year while also taking some pressure off of Jimmy Buckets and D Wade.
On top of the bench unit staying healthy, the performance of Rajon Rondo is directly related to the Bulls success. Wade and Butler have been great all year, but this team is on a whole different level when Rondo is playing well. In games that the Bulls have won, Rondo has averaged about nine assists, whereas in games they have lost he averages about five. This is a huge difference and truly shows how important it is for Rondo to be distributing the ball effectively. Consistency has been a problem for Rondo, but he has played under 30 games with this completely new team. It is reasonable to believe that Rondo will only get better throughout the season, which makes the Bulls dangerous.
The Bulls have a great opportunity to establish themselves as a top seed in the weak Eastern Conference. They are building momentum right now with a two-game winning streak, their most recent win being a 4th quarter comeback against the Nets. Their bench is finally healthy and will continue to improve as a unit, giving much needed depth to a good starting five. If this team plays up to their potential, they can be a threat to teams like Toronto and Boston in the playoffs. The Eastern Conference Finals is possible for the Bulls only if they don’t have to see the Cavaliers before that point. Because of this, Bulls fans will likely be hoping for the 3rd seed or an underachieving 6th seed.