The Chicago Bulls might end up making the NBA playoffs, but they’re not going to get far there. Stopping a losing streak and finally playing some committed, energetic basketball is good. Jimmy Butler coming back is great. But the end game should have been winning a championship.
After four straight losses, the Bulls taste victory, putting them above .500. They beat another disappointing team, the Houston Rockets, 108-100. The Rockets have their own set of problems, and might be in the same boat the Bulls are. A team that’s good, but needs more than one or two signings to get to where they want to. Something about their philosophy, or maybe just their ability to identify who is right for their system and franchise, is just off.
But back to the Bulls, Butler coming back after missing a month of basketball in which the Bulls rarely won made a big difference. He scored 24 points to go with 11 rebounds and 6 assists while the Bulls won by 28 points during his minutes, making life difficult for James Harden. Butler fouled out and Harden scored 36 points, but he shot 10-of-26 from the field. Harden turned the ball over nine times and picked up five fouls himself. Despite not finishing the game and scoring less points, that’s a win for Butler.
Pau Gasol dominating the paint was even bigger. He finished with a team-high 28 points and 17 rebounds (also 8 turnovers) while Dwight Howard, getting no help in the paint, finished with 8 points and 3-of-9 from the field. Despite their 25 turnovers in a sloppy game, the Bulls looked a lot more focused and at least mentally “into it” than in previous games. Maybe it was Butler coming back. Maybe it was something else behind the scenes. Some realization that it’s now or never, with the 8th spot in the East starting to drift away, now again occupied by the Bulls.
Derrick Rose finished with 17 points in a game that was about the starters. Nikola Mirotic scored 7 points off the bench as he makes his way back too. Injuries are a good excuse which the Bulls know how to milk better than anyone, but when you’re missing so many important players, the losses are going to pile up. But it’s been awhile since the Bulls have shown offensive and especially defensive consistency from game to game. This win over the Rockets means nothing if they struggle again when they play the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bulls won’t tank, and as someone who despised the concept, I’m happy for them that they’re trying to make the playoffs no matter what. But this team isn’t just one good signing away from being a contender again. It needs some sort of concept change or massive overhaul to raise their ceiling from the Eastern conference semifinals. Building around Butler and even Rose is good, and Fred Hoiberg could still be the one who gets them back on track. But approaching the offseason by thinking minimal change is the best thing for them will just result in more disappointment.