This is NBA season is shaping out to be one withotu real, untouchable favorites, and in such an eviornment the Chicago Bulls, especially after a very impressive 111-87 win over the Houston Rockets, should be considered as championship contenders, even if the group of Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy and the rest don’t exactly look, on paper, like a team that can go all the way.
A 24 point win over a Rockets team that until a couple of games looked like the hottest team in the NBA changes perceptions. The Bulls also beat the Heat recently and it seems like their brand of tough, defensive and smart basketball on offense is the right recipe for success, even if it without the broken promise of Derrick Rose and still with the disappointing yet expensive Carlos Boozer.
Joakim Noah is at the center of this phenomenon. Unlike last season, when it seemed like the Bulls’ depleted look was going to be halted at some point by a better team, there’s a different vibe to the whole project this season. Their offense might not be beautiful to watch, but there’s purpose and thinking behind possessions this time, unlike the coin toss it was when Nate Robinson was playing point guard.
Joakim Noah had himself yet another almost triple doube with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists, but everyone agreed that a bloodied and bandaged Mike Dunleavy was the inspiration to a huge third quarter and a very impressive win against a team that might be a huge opposite to the Chicago Bulls in many ways: Superstar basketball (hero-ball), bad defense and even worse coaching.
Dunleavy was hit with an elbow to the face in the first half by Chandler Parsons, which got him stitched up 10 times above the eye. Noah referred to him as a white Evander Holyfield after the game, and it seemed like the blood and bandage brought out something great from Dunleavy, scoring 21 points in the second half to go with his 7 rebounds. Carlos Boozer had a good game with 18 points and 7 rebounds, while Kirk Hinrich with 19, D.J. Augustin with 13 and Jimmy Butler with 11 completed the six players in double figures.
Butler also made some great defensive plays on James Harden, having one of his worse games this season. Harden, like Dwight Howard, seemed too slow whenever he had the ball, finishing with 8 points, 5 turnovers while shooting 2-of-7 from the field. Howard didn’t deal all that well with Noah and the rest of the Bulls’ frontline, turning the ball over 7 times. The Rockets did get 21 points from Jeremy Lin, but McHale prefers to use the best point guard he has when the game was already lost.
The Bulls aren’t the complete package, far from it. There’s no reliable outside shooter, despite the improving numbers from Dunleavy and Hinrich. There are games when the offense completely shuts down and their defense can’t rescure them. Slow starts are often a problem, because this team doesn’t have that extra gear to come back from huge deficits.
However, there’s something to be said about doing so well without your biggest star, who hasn’t really been playing basketball for the past two years. A smart team, which the Bulls clearly are, and growing in confidence, can be a huge nusiance to the bigger names in the league, and all the talk about preseason favorites might a bit outdated as we see the Bulls capable of handling anyone at any given night. The question that remains if it is something that can also be done through a best of 7 series.