If you ignore the beginning and end, the Chicago Bulls looked like they broke out of their funk. They had a comfortable lead the majority of the game until someone put a lid on the basket with around three and a half minutes to go.
The Bulls held a 10 point lead at 94-84 but didn't score again until the Magic intentionally fouled Luol Deng with four seconds left in the game. The Magic had the ball and a chance to tie, but Taj Gibson appeared to come from half way across the court to swat Jameer Nelson's shot attempt into the fourth row.
Nelson missed a 12 foot banker on the in bounds play, the Bulls pulled down the rebound and Luol Deng iced the game by knocking down his free throws.
Carlos Boozer puts one in the win column
We rip on Boozer plenty, so it's nice to acknowledge when we won a game largely because of the Booz. He had a game high 31 points to go along with 11 rebounds, 37 yells, and 12 head bobbles. Boozer and Gibson were both the beneficiary of excellent ball movement by the perimeter and interior players to generate open looks at the basket all night long.
The pair combined for 52 points, 22 boards, and 21 for 34 from the field. The Magic couldn't stop the Bulls interior players and that was ultimately their undoing. Luol Deng chipped in 23 for Chicago and the rest of the team finished under 10 just getting up shots here and there.
I don't like this trend with Marco
Belinelli had a strong game in Rip's first game back, but Hamilton has already taken over the drivers seat in terms of minutes and the starting spot, and Marco's game appears to be slipping. You can make the case that Hamilton is now playing better than Marco, but he's not playing better than Marco when Marco started.
This looks like a case where perhaps it's hard to argue that Belinelli should start if he can't continue to play well off the bench, but the decision to bench him will lead to worse output overall from the SG position than we were getting before. Perhaps the Bulls still unload Hamilton at the deadline to get under the tax (you know they're going to try), but a better solution would be to start Marco, bring Rip off the bench, and have more overall talent playing better.
Maybe Thibs simply doesn't believe Belinelli can keep it up or doesn't think he'll perform better with the starters. Maybe he doesn't think Rip's ego can handle the bench or that Rip would be even worse with the bench guys. I'd sure like to give it a shot though.
Chicago's doing what it's supposed to do
The Bulls are simply hanging around at this point. Joakim Noah missed the game with flu like symptoms. Hinrich has missed some time, Hamilton was out for an extended stretch, and the Bulls are still floating by four games above .500.
It hasn't been pretty, it's certainly not great, but if Chicago can make it to Rose's return date sitting 4-8 games above .500 already in the middle of the playoff seeding, then you have to feel pretty good about how they kept the team afloat.
I know there are some still calling for the tank job, but there's no practical way to convince Thibodeau or Derrick Rose to to tank, and the Bulls couldn't get a particularly good draft pick if they started tanking right now anyway. Not to mention there's no savior coming out of this draft as it is.
Instead, the Bulls will go ahead and compete for an NBA championship this season, and it may sound crazy to say that right now, but that's exactly what they're going to do. By the time the playoffs roll around, the Bulls will be the #2 or #3 seed in the East and will again look like the biggest threat to the Miami Heat.
They don't realistically have enough pieces to get the job done. They don't have any reasonable path to add the pieces they need. They may be destined to play the role of 90s Knicks for the next two to four years.
However, being one piece away is better than the alternative. The Bulls will need some luck to climb to the top of the mountain, but they'd need luck and miracles to climb it if they try a rebound.
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