What remains of the tough 20?

So the Chicago Bulls went 7-2 through the first nine games of the tough 20 prior to all-star break.   It was a very good record, marred only by the two losses in games you would have expected them to win, but redeemed by victories in all of the tough games, the ones you thought they might drop.

I am quite pleased with the first (roughly) half of the tough 20, but is the second half an even worse stretch?   Will Joakim Noah fit seamlessly back into the lineup?    Here's a look at the schedule and where my expectations are for the toughest stretch remaining this season.

The Schedule:
Feb 23rd: @Toronto
Feb 24th: Miami
Feb 26th: @Milwaukee
Feb 28th: @Washington
Mar 2nd: @Atlanta
Mar 4th: @Orlando
Mar 6th: @Miami
Mar 7th: New Orleans
Mar 9th: @Charlotte
Mar 11: Atlanta
Mar 12: Utah

You'd like to say that we could just book @Toronto, @Milwaukee, @Washington, and @Charlotte as wins, but the Bulls are 13-12 on the road and have dropped plenty of road games to mediocre teams.  As such, it wouldn't shock me if the Bulls dropped one of those games, but I still predict a 4-0 record of that stretch.

We've then got the three home games against good teams; New Orleans, Atlanta, and Utah.   I'll predict the Bulls grab two of those three games, and we add 2-1 on to the record putting the Bulls at 6-1 so far out of the games we've evaluated.

Now you've got elite team at home and the good teams on the road (Miami, @Atlanta, @Orlando), I'll give the Bulls 1-2 out of those two games, bringing us to 7-3.  

Finally, that leaves us with the @Miami, I'm going to predict a loss there, giving us a 7-4 record over this stretch and a 14-6 record overall out of the tough 20 games.

Obviously, things could work out differently in any number of ways, but I think 6.5 and 4.5 feels about right for what I think the Bulls can do (ie, they'll finish 7-4 or 6-5).  If they improve on 7-4 then I'll be extremely impressed, if they fall short of 6-5 then I'll be quite disappointed with 7-4 being the happy side of my expected range and 6-5 being my somewhat disappointed side of the expected range.

A 7-4 record puts the Bulls in great shape the rest of the season.  It would put them at 45-20, but the remainder of the schedule is awfully weak.  I predict the Bulls lose no more than four games the rest of the year putting them at 58 wins on the season.   Unfortunately, 58 wins probably only earns the Bulls a three seed.

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  • Was nice to see Derick get his props... now it is time to get down to some real work.

    Sure hope that Noah comes back more seamlessly than adding Boozer. Those were a rough few games... I think this will be the case though, as Noah's style of play lends itself to easier integration. Also, the guys had previously played with Noah for a little while.

    Will be really interesting to see how Noah and Boozer interact on the court, as they have not had much time together, and when they did, one was just coming back and the other was struggling through a serious injury.

  • In reply to Swish14U:

    It will be interesting seeing Boozer and Noah together. I think Noah is as much of the reason Boozer wanted to come to Chicago as Rose. My hope (and Boozer's) is that Noah's length, activity, and shot blocking threat helps cover for Boozer defensively so he can be more agreesive, and effective, offensively. He'll be able to play more minutes if so, and take some pressure off Rose on offense. That might even help minimize the amount of traps and double teams Rose gets.

  • Good point about Asik's minutes. I'm hoping Thibs saves Thomas for the playoffs, since he's a vet that doesn't need development, and will accept his role whatever it is. If not, maybe they should send Asik down for a D league stint like Johnson, so he can get more minutes and continue to develop. Thomas isn't likely to be back next season, and Asik will still be under contract. The Bulls will need Asik and Gibson next season and beyond hopefully.

  • 8 games left against Boston, Miami, Orlando, and Atlanta combined, with 5 of them on the road. Those will be critical for playoff positioning and tie breakers.

  • What I predict:

    Feb 23rd: @Toronto - Win
    Feb 24th: Miami - Win
    Feb 26th: @Milwaukee - Win
    Feb 28th: @Washington - Win
    Mar 2nd: @Atlanta - Loss
    Mar 4th: @Orlando - Loss
    Mar 6th: @Miami - Loss
    Mar 7th: New Orleans - Win
    Mar 9th: @Charlotte - Win
    Mar 11: Atlanta - Win
    Mar 12: Utah - Win

    That would be 8-3 ... and would be my optimistic side.
    So I'll stick with 8-3 on the up side, 7-4 on the down side.

    Most of these games are tough to predict. Like the Hornets game. They have a decent team and we just beat them in NO. Do they come out looking for a bit of revenge? Is Paul healthier now? Does he come out with a bit of a chip on his shoulder? Will it matter or are we just better than them?

    No matter what, this stretch should tell us a lot about our team.

  • The next few weeks will be very tough. Most teams are energized with a small break at a minimum for a few weeks. So, expect teams which are near the playoff bracket like Charlotte to give it all. But, there can be young teams like Toronto, Washington who might get worse with the break as they might start mailing it in.

    Miami will be tough to beat on Thursday. They do their damage when teams are not prepared against them as they can overwhelm with their iso talent. But, in a playoff series teams can be more prepared with schemes to slow them down.

  • In reply to schaumburgfan:

    Miami, you have spot on. Just like in the all star game they are all about iso plays hoping their exceptional talent can put them over the top. However, with Thibs we seem to be playing every big game as it was the playoffs. I think we beat them 96-87.
    I expect though a tough deffensive effort on our part and using Noan, Askik, Thomas and Taj to absorb fouls and make them earn it at the line. 30+ FT attempts for the Heat and at most 20 FT attempts for us.

  • Great points John, what some thought was not a great decision by John Paxson and Bulls management is fruit that will be borne this year! Rose was a no-brainer, but Noah plays big in big games, and ahead are big games, championship games. We saw it in the 7-game playoff series against the Celtics. The rest of the league knows that and you can rest assured that they know it and are very uneasy about the prospects of facing the Bulls, especially this well-equipped Bulls team with a superb coach. Their record attest to that.

  • Noah's return could not be more timely. He will practice for sure Monday and Tuesday and hopefully will get 25 minutes Wednesday and get reaquainted with the team and plays. Then he will be still fresh and conditioned enough to give his best v. Miami.

    Prior to the season I predicted a 54-28 season. At that time I predicted for the next 11 games as follows:

    Feb 23rd: @Toronto - Win
    Feb 24th: Miami - Loss
    Feb 26th: @Milwaukee - Loss
    Feb 28th: @Washington - Win
    Mar 2nd: @Atlanta - Loss
    Mar 4th: @Orlando - Loss
    Mar 6th: @Miami - Loss
    Mar 7th: New Orleans - Win
    Mar 9th: @Charlotte - Loss
    Mar 11: Atlanta - Win
    Mar 12: Utah - Win

    However now expect a 7-4 as we should beat Bobcats and Bucks who are way worse than I predicted pre-season.

  • Probably as good an indication as any that a deadline trade is unlikely.

  • In reply to DontLetsStart:

    It might also be the other way around. The Bulls might need an extra body if they trade somebody in the rotation.

  • In reply to schaumburgfan:

    They're checking out shooting guards and if the Bulls make a trade it's surely going to be for a shooting guard coming in. If they were checking out power forwards you could say that maybe they were looking to move Taj, but shooting guards point to no trade.

  • Your thoughts on trading Taj and Asik are legitimate and something I'm sure the Bull's brass thought long and hard about, but I believe the reason they ultimately decided(to this point at least) to stand pat, is the prospects of a team next year that includes the interior depth of this team, with an added shooting guard at the MLE this offseason.

  • If you want a trade plot twist how about New Jersey looking to buy the Knicks trade assets off Denver for picks if the Melo trade goes through.

    If that's how it works out what an awesome bit of trickery to step in to get the Knicks to up the offer so the players would become available.

  • It also could mean they are waiting for a buy-out like a Hamilton or whoever. They might sign one of these D-league guys on 10 day contracts for a while to wait for these buy-outs to happen and then release them or keep them based on what happens..

  • +100 I agree completely. It couldn't come at a better time either as the 10 games after Toronto are a murderers row. Even the home games against Miami ,New Orleans, and Utah are on back to back nights. That's rough.

  • Did anyone read Sams article? He was saying Prince is more likely to be bought out and sign with the Bulls than Rip

  • In reply to UtahBullsFan:

    Yeah, I saw that. Personally, I'd be more enthused about Prince than Hamilton. I think Prince has more of an off the dribble game, is a decent shooter, and is much better defensively. And the way Sam described it, the likelihood of Hamilton being bought out is remote. If Prince becomes available, I'd say the Bulls should look into it.

  • Melo to Knicks is official: http://www.denverpost.com/nuggets/ci_17443219

    But this isn't even news, this was happening all along. This move guts their roster. Mozgov, Chandler, Gallinari, Felton, a first, 2 seconds, and 3 million. Carmelo comes with Billups and a bunch of scrubs.

  • In reply to KingOfCrumbs:

    Now the question is, do the Bulls make a pitch now at Affallo or JR Smith. There was a report earlier that the Bulls and Celtics are both looking at Shane Battier. Also was the Melo trade a 3 team trade with the Warriors included? I thought I heard that somewhere...

  • In reply to KingOfCrumbs:

    Finally. I'm so glad that ridiculous farce is over.

    Get ready for the Happy backlash, saying how the Bulls weren't BOLD enough to make a trade, when Melo never wanted to come here in the first place. He's going to get a megaphone and broadcast it like one of those crazed street-corner evangelists.

    On the flip side, it'll be interesting what this will open up in terms of other trades. Will the Bulls pursue and be able to get someone?

  • In reply to KingOfCrumbs:

    Thank God, now dominoes can start to fall. Do the Bulls go for JR Smith or Anthony Parker? Will the Bulls even be a player come the trade deadline?

  • In reply to KingOfCrumbs:

    Just found out that T-Wolves get Eddy Curry and someone else's expiring contract. Now I think the doors will open up for the Bulls. Get ready for 2012 Free Agency. Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard. That will mirror this summer all over again.

  • In reply to AlgernonHPenn:

    Can already predict: Dwight Howard - Lakers, Chris Paul - New York. Deron Williams is the tough one.

  • In reply to claytonabigsby:

    I think Howard will wind up in NY with Paul, but the new CBA may prevent that.

  • In reply to AlgernonHPenn:

    Naw... I think the CBA will eventually take care of that.

  • In reply to AlgernonHPenn:

    X-( = Mr. Happy

  • In reply to AlgernonHPenn:

    Oh Mr Happy, haven't been following his posts. Was he claiming Carmelo was coming to the Bulls?!

  • In reply to claytonabigsby:

    Yep. He kept saying it to the bitter end...

  • In reply to AlgernonHPenn:

    LOL, same guy who almost guaranteed according to his unnamed forces that Lebron was coming here. Talk about the boy who cried wolf!

  • In reply to KingOfCrumbs:

    Personally the pool is a little deeper now. Rip Hamilton and Prince may be bought out, Shane Battier is on the Bulls radar now. JR Smith and Aaron Afallo as well as talk that denver may trade Felton, Galinari or Chandler before the dealine. It seems that the guy they wanted was Mozgov. Stay tuned.

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    In reply to KingOfCrumbs:

    If there's one place Noah can really help the Bulls out when he returns it's on the road. He's the guy that brings the energy every night, and he's also the guy that seems to like playing the villain. He's always important, but he's essential if the Bulls are going to improve their road record.

    I'd like to see the Bulls grab that #2 seed. And I think the way to do it is split the games with Miami and Boston and pound Atlanta and Orlando every time we see them. Orlando's the toughest part of that equation. Beating them the rest of the season I think is the difference in the seeding.

  • In reply to KingOfCrumbs:

    It's going to take them at least 2 years to build up that roster in NY. Denver made out like fat cats playing the pressure ganme with the Knicks. NY was going to look awfully bad if NJ got Melo of if Melo stayed. They may have 2 stars, but thats all they have.

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