Doesn't it feel like we were suffering through the lockout just yesterday? It's been a hectic journey, but here we are, in the last week of the regular season. With the playoffs almost here, the effects of the condensed schedule on players are evident, but it's still certainly been an intriguing season to cover and the postseason bodes to be even more exciting.
The Bulls are poised to make a deep run, but after recent games against the likes of Detroit, Washington and Charlotte, as well as the regular-season finale against Cleveland, it's hard not to think of those cellar dwellers.
Apropos of nothing, my pick to turn things around next year is Golden State, a team the Bulls have surprisingly struggled with in Oakland the past few seasons. Mark Jackson gets a pass in his head-coaching debut season, but with an aggressive ownership group, a lottery pick in a deep draft, money to spend in free agency, point guard Stephen Curry and trade-deadline acquisition Andrew Bogut, a top-five center when healthy, having an entire offseason to get their bodies right and solid complementary pieces like productive power forward David Lee and rookie sharpshooter Klay Thompson, I see the Warriors making a splash next season.
Now that my stream-of-consciousness rant is out of the way, let's get to this week's mailbag:
Can the Bulls contend with the Heat if their eventual playoff matchup gets as physical as their last meeting? -- Phil E.
Phil, while last Thursday's game was certainly disappointing, I believe it was an aberration. To paraphrase Thibs from before Saturday's Mavericks game, you can't be a top defensive and rebounding team, and be soft. I think the Heat came out with the intent of proving a point and the Bulls were simply unprepared. As disturbing as it was to see, I don't believe that will happen again if the two teams meet in the playoffs.
What the loss in Miami did was even the mental edge the Bulls gained from their two home wins -- one without Derrick and the other in the worst game of his career -- making home-court advantage that much more important. Now, I do think the Bulls could use an enforcer-type veteran, a la Kurt Thomas, that Miami knows they'll have to contend with in exchange for cheap shots, but I think their collective toughness will surface if the Heat tries similar tactics again, though that has to start with delivering hard, yet legal fouls to send a message.
Do you know who picks the music they play at Bulls games? Do the players have any input? -- Julie P.
Julie, I have no clue who picks the music, but I'm fairly positive the players aren't part of the process. I don't know if you're a fan or not, but I've kind of taken a liking to the United Center's family-friendly -- if sometimes outdated -- music during games. The UC definitely doesn't boast all of the current hits, like some other NBA arenas, but the atmosphere, sense of history and quality product make up for that deficiency, if you perceive it that way. Still, if the players had a say in the matter, I'm pretty sure they'd come up with a different playlist.
Does Taj Gibson have a future with the Bulls? -- David D.
David, that's a great question. Taj, along with Carlos Boozer, form one of the league's top power-forward duos, as both are starting-caliber players and their strengths and weaknesses -- Taj's athleticism and defensive prowess, Carlos' shooting touch and polished offensive game -- complement each other well. That's why I don't see the Bulls trading Taj in the offseason, although Taj will be entering his fourth season and will be eligible for free agency after the season.
Barring a major trade, the team's front office understands its core group -- which includes Boozer, who is more productive than many give him credit for and with his hefty contract, is virtually untradeable anyway -- has a championship-contending window. In order to maximize that, especially with their style of play, holding on to Taj next season would be wise, though they might not able to afford to keep him once he hits the free-agent market.
If and when that happens, they are very high on one of last year's draft picks, Nikola Mirotic, who recently won his second consecutive EuroLeague Rising Star award. Mirotic is a different player than Taj and is viewed as a talented face-up power forward with shooting range and offensive versatility, but there will be an adjustment as he transitions to the NBA. That said, there's a chance he crosses the water prior to the 2013-14 season and if that occurs, I think it will coincide with Taj's departure, simply based on financial reasons.
What's your take on the whole Dwight HowardStan Van Gundy saga in Orlando? -- Joey Y.
Joey, since the Magic's melodrama took another twist with Dwight's recent back surgery, the situation has somehow become even more complicated. I don't see any way, short of a miracle playoff run -- which is highly unlikely, considering their downward spiral and injury-plagued roster -- that Stan returns to coach in Orlando next season. Despite his protestations that he prefers to stay put, that should come as relief to him.
However, I doubt a coaching change will keep Dwight with the Magic. While I don't believe reports that the organization wanted to have him fly on AirTran -- at least not on a commercial flight -- I think it's clear that his time in Orlando has run its course. The Magic look like a team in need of clearing house, from the general manager and coach to various veteran role players and the All-Star center. At this point, I expect them to aggressively seek out potential trade partners in the offseason. While Dwight opted in for an extra year, with his injury potentially affecting him at the beginning of next season, it's probably time to cut ties, maximize what they can get for him while they still have leverage and get some pieces to rebuild with, whether solid veterans or future assets.
Keep the questions -- whether theyre about the Bulls, the rest of the NBA, other levels of basketball or life in general -- coming. Youll get a much better explanation, though not as instant, than you would via Twitter with only 140 characters. You can submit a question by commenting on this article below or by clicking here.