Dwyane Wade’s first year as a member of the Chicago Bulls is so far going well. That includes the annual road trip the Bulls take when the circus is in town. Ironically, it is the last time that the Bulls will hit the road for a lengthy period because of the circus. The Bulls’ finale of the soon to be ending annual trip has already been a success.
Before the Bulls face the Los Angeles Lakers tonight, it must be noted that the tough part is over with. The Bulls are at the midway point of the six-game odyssey and currently have a 2-1 record. Wins versus the Portland Trailblazers and Utah Jazz were followed by a late loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Even in the 102-95 loss to the Clippers, the Chicago Bulls were ahead for most of the game. It was not until some questionable decisions made by Bulls’ head coach Fred Hoiberg and some uneven officiating that the Bulls would hand over their lead. During the last minute of the game, the usually even keel Bulls’ coach was assessed two technical fouls (courtesy of ESPN) and was ejected.
Hoiberg’s gripe was about a late foul called on Bulls’ forward Jimmy Butler, which gave Clippers’ power forward three free throws.
“I thought Jimmy made a great defensive play. Blake caught it at about the free throw line. And before he put it on the ground, he was at the top of the arc. I thought Jimmy did a good job crawling up into him. I’ll have to go back on film and look at it. Jimmy, I thought, battled him and made a heck of a play, but they gave him the call. You got to respect it.”
The wheels started falling off for the Chicago Bulls during the fourth quarter. Had the Bulls held on, they would be undefeated for their final circus trip. Each of the remaining three road games will feature beatable opponents as long as the Bulls take them seriously.
The Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, and Philadelphia 76ers round out the Chicago Bulls’ final circus trip. The Bulls will then face the Lakers at home, followed by a highly anticipated game against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
Losing to the Clippers snapped a four-game win streak, but the Chicago Bulls can begin another one leading up to the showdown with the Cavaliers beginning tonight. Things look promising for the Bulls now as it is being reported that the Lakers may be without point guard D’Angelo Russell.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Russell is dealing with a sore knee, which kept him out of the game against the San Antonio Spurs Friday night. Russell is listed as questionable (courtesy of Lakers Nation) tonight when the Lakers host the Bulls.
Lakers’ head coach Luke Walton admits that D’Angelo Russell has been dealing with the injury for a while. He could sit Russell against the Chicago Bulls much like he did versus the Spurs.
“His knee has been bothering him (but) he’s been playing through it. It started hurting more, so they decided last night when he got to the arena to shut him down.”
If Russell sits against the Bulls, it will enhance the winning capabilities for the visitors. The Chicago Bulls, despite playing the night prior, get to play in the same arena, negating having to travel.
There were some things we have learned about the Chicago Bulls in the first three games of the circus trip.
Dwyane Wade is the true facilitator of the Chicago Bulls’ offense. That is a not a knock on Rajon Rondo, who leads the Bulls in assists, but the Bulls go through Wade and Jimmy Butler. The Bulls are showing opposing teams that it is not who has the basketball, but where the basketball is going.
This became evident when Rondo missed the first two games of the Bulls’ road trip. Jerian Grant filled in well for Rajon Rondo, but it was Dwyane Wade, and to a lesser extent Jimmy Butler, who dictated where the basketball was going to go. It allowed the Bulls to play freely, with pace. That play continued when Rondo returned.
Grant played well and had earned a spot as the primary backup to Rondo. At least for now this is a trend that could continue once Michael Carter-Williams is cleared to play. Carter-Williams’ length will allow him to play some shooting guard and small forward.
Opportunities for the Chicago Bulls to get Butler, Rondo, and Wade more rest will present themselves once Carter-Williams returns. It took Jerian Grant to assert himself for the Bulls’ coaching staff to gain some trust in him.
Another thing that was learned is that second-year forward Bobby Portis needs to play more. Although Portis has had some uneven play at times, he needs to play to gain some confidence. Versus the Clippers, Portis made a couple of defensive miscues. On one play in particular, he was berated by Dwyane Wade. Instead of sulking, Portis responded by making a key basket down the stretch.
Confidence is a tricky subject. When Bobby Portis can get on the floor to learn from his mistakes, his confidence grows. But if he sits after making a bad decision, Portis begins to second guess himself. The Bulls are going to need Portis. It is better for them if he is confident.
What cannot be dismissed is that the Chicago Bulls are 2-1 on the six-game road trip without their best shooter. Doug McDermott is not expected to play until the game against the 76ers at the earliest, according to CBS Sports. This is after the Bulls placed him in the NBA’s concussion protocol a week ago. McDermott was missing versus the Utah Jazz, against whom the Bulls struggled at putting the ball in the hoop. For the Bulls to get past both the Trailblazers and Jazz on the road without him is remarkable.
The second half of the Chicago Bulls’ last circus trip will be a little bit easier. There are some traps which could present themselves. Overconfidence could come into play versus the Lakers and 76ers. Traveling to Denver and playing in the high altitude is always a tough thing for teams. That being said, it is not inconceivable to believe the Chicago Bulls will finish the road trip with a 5-1 record. Going 2-1 on the toughest leg of it makes the trip successful already.
[Featured Image by Rob Foldy/Getty Images]