Bulls blessed with favorable schedule?


Bulls blessed with favorable schedule?

After some time to digest the Bulls' daunting 2011-12 regular-season schedule, it would be a reach to call it favorable -- that can't be said of any NBA team -- but while the 66-game slate will be rough on everybody, Chicago is better equipped than most to handle it. Some of that has to do with the team's actual talent, youth, depth and cohesiveness from their 62-win regular season a year ago, but how the games play out also gives the Bulls an advantage.

First of all, a look back at their success on the road last season and dominant mark at the United Center has to be taken into consideration for a team that brings back a mostly intact roster. But while the Bulls have a league-high (along with the Spurs) nine-game road swing -- remember the success of their November circus trip, the first time they had a winning record on the annual occurrence since the Jordan era? -- they're also one of the few squads that's only required to play one back-to-back-to-back (against the Pistons in Chicago, at Minnesota and back to the United Center to host the Wizards; certainly not the toughest trio of NBA teams) this season.

Speaking of that nine-game trip, which begins Jan. 29, while it starts off with the first of four matchups with the Heat, it's hardly a murderer's row of opponents, as only the Knicks and Celtics can be regarded as marquee foes. Not to say the Bulls -- especially not head coach Tom Thibodeau, who swears to reporters a last-place team heading into the last contest of the season is the biggest test his players have faced all year -- will take anybody lightly, but outside of a tough five-game stretch in March against five 2011 playoff teams (four of which are at the United Center) and a difficult month of April, they don't have many consecutive games against the league's upper-echelon teams.

For example, from the season opener until the All-Star break, the Bulls only play consecutive games against teams that participated in the previous postseason three times in 35 games; only 15 of 35 games are against 2011 playoff teams. Now, the Bulls' second-half slate does get tougher and even teams that made the playoffs last year will inevitably make player transactions, for better or worse between Friday's start to free agency and the February trade deadline, but the aforementioned factors an already-formidable squad going for itself bode well for Chicago.

Conditioning, motivation and preparation aren't the cause of severe fretting for the Bulls (at least compared to many other teams), but one area that can't be controlled, health, is something that can be mitigated by the team's depth at every position, with the exception of point guard -- no disrespect to C.J. Watson, but while Taj Gibson and Omer Asik can, at minimum, approximate the production of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, it's tough to make up for the absence of the league's MVP, although Watson did pour in 39 points, albeit in a loss, in Derrick Rose's lone DNP of last season. That said, getting off to a quick start, something their chemistry suggests in possible, will be significant to the Bulls' regular-season success, and while the excessive travel and amount of games packed into short spans will ultimately take a toll, it appears the fates (or league office) were favorable to the Bulls, who have a couple of relatively long homestands and mercifully, multiple off days between games toward the back end to balance out some of their cross-country excursions.

Take a look at the schedule, study it based on the teams the Bulls play and not the actual calendar, and come to your own conclusion.

One thing's for sure: They won't win as many games as last season.

Rookie Denzel Valentine believes he'll play in Bulls' season opener

Rookie Denzel Valentine believes he'll play in Bulls' season opener

Showing no hesitation, Denzel Valentine stood some eight feet behind the 3-point line and launched a triple in Jimmy Butler’s face, then on the next possession, hit a corner triple that ended a contested 3-on-3 game following Bulls practice Wednesday.

He looks ready, sounds ready and most importantly, feels ready for the season opener Thursday night against the Boston Celtics after missing so much time with a right ankle sprain he suffered in the preseason opener well over two weeks ago.

“I think I’m going to suit up,” Valentine said. “Still have to talk to coach about it, but I think I’m going to suit up. I feel great.”

Assuming the Bulls play nine or 10 guys tomorrow night, Valentine should get some run against the Celtics considering how easily he adapts to the game—and the Bulls are in no position to discriminate if a guy can contribute, thus making Valentine’s recovery that much more important.

“It feels great right now. The staff, give them credit. They’ve done a great job of getting me back into great shape, getting my ankle stronger, so it feels great right now, and ready.”

It seemed the injury took longer than the initial prognosis, and even Valentine felt that, as the Bulls’ first-round draft pick was anxious to get back on the floor and learn the new system and teammates.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“Yeah, that was my first ever actual ankle sprain. I’ve twisted my ankle a couple times in college, and I’m back in a couple days, practicing the next day,” he said. “But this one took a while. It was kind of frustrating because I thought it was going to be just like college, twist my ankle and be right back, but it was kind of an unfortunate accident. It took longer to heal. It actually took longer to heal than me actually being out there. It took time, but I’m ready now.”

Heck, he even has a new teammate in Michael Carter-Williams and that affects him being a primary ballhandler on the floor. Fred Hoiberg envisioned Valentine being able to play some point behind Rajon Rondo but with the recent trade, Valentine will likely play more on the wings behind Butler and Dwyane Wade.

It’s another change in the early stages of his career—one where he hasn’t been able to establish much continuity. Hopefully for Valentine, the worst of this is behind him.

“It’s very difficult, and being in Chicago, we’ve played all of our preseason games here, so there wasn’t no traveling like mid-season, so everybody is here pretty much every day practicing, and I’ve got to sit out at it,” Valentine said. “They kind of lose a little chemistry towards me, and the guys getting to play with me and me getting to know them on the court, so kind of lose a little bit of rhythm. But the good thing about me is I don’t need a whole lot of time with the team. I can kind of just sneak my way in and adapt.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: Looking ahead to opening night matchup against Celtics

Bulls Talk Podcast: Looking ahead to opening night matchup against Celtics

In our latest installment of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill get you set for opening night against the Celtics. 

They debate realistic expectations for the team and break down the decision to start Taj Gibson at power forward. Later, Schanowski and Gill analyze the team's biggest concern, defense. 

Finally, CSN New England's Celtics Insider A. Sherrod Blakely joins the panel to discuss what Rajon Rondo has left in the tank. 

Check out the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast below: