Monday, Nov. 15, 2010
By Aggrey Sam
The November circus trip is here. Starting Tuesday in Houston, the team will play seven straight road gamesincluding three sets of back-to-back contestsconcluding Nov. 27, with the next game at the friendly confines of the United Center not until Dec. 1, when Orlando visits Chicago.
Success on this annual trip has been fleeting for the squad in recent years, but its understood throughout the organization that its key to perform well, as a disastrous journey could put them behind the eight-ball when jockeying for playoff position in a campaign with high expectations later in the season Facing a murderers row of opponentssuch as the Texas Triangle of Houston (the first game of the trip).
Were just going to take it one game at a time. Were not worried about anybody else on the road trip but Houston. Weve got to focus in and key in on them. They have very good guard play and they have a threat on the insidethats Scola and if Yao plays again, hell be a threat on the insidebut our focus is just on that one game, said Derrick Rose after Saturdays win over Washington. One game at a time. We cant look ahead. We know that were playing against some good teams, but we still have to take it one game at a time, just prepare ourselves and focus in on that one team.
Its really going to help our team. This year we have a lot of good guys that like hanging with each other. Were young, were getting into a little groove, so I think that should help us, our vets, we can relate to them. They have young spirits, were always hanging around them, so I know everybodys going to be hanging with everybody this trip, he continued. I think its all discipline. Were going on the West Coast, of course the weathers going to be different, you want to go out more, so I think its all about discipline. Dedicating yourself and sacrifice by not going out and getting some rest.
This is a new year. Im not worried about last year, last years over with. I know I have a new team, new coaching staff and thats how were looking at it.
Added Taj Gibson: Right now were just focused on one team at a time, the same way we did last year when we went on that awesome winning streak over there. Just one game at a time, you cant focus on the overall thing about games in the past or how our team did in previous years.
If the players sound focused, their coach should get some credit, as the unified message from the team first emanated from Thibodeau immediately after Saturdays win.
All the stuff about the road trip, Im concerned more about our practice and Houston. All the stuff about going on the road, the circus, all that stuff, Im not concerned with that. Im worried about the next game.
And with that, heres a look at the Bulls upcoming slate:
@ Houston-Nov. 16:
Yao Mings shaky health statusand frustrating minute-limithavent exactly been a boon to the Rockets, who have gotten off to a rough start. Although the Rockets have often played spoiler and embraced the role of giant-killer during their centerpieces numerous injury stretches in past seasons, they simply lack firepower with floor general and former Most Improved Player Aaron Brooks sidelined. Houston is getting excellent production out of inside-outside duo Luis Scola and Kevin Martin, and diminutive undrafted point guard Ish Smith is teaming up nicely with backup Kyle Lowry in Brooks absence, but not reaching an agreement with free agent center Erick Dampierwho would have formed a tag-team duo with former Bull Brad Miller behind (or for) Yaohurts them in the paint.
@ San Antonio-Nov. 17:
The Spurs, currently on a seven-game winning streak, have shown signs that they may be gearing up for one last gasp as a true championship contender, reprising the role theyve played for the majority of the last decade and change before the past few good, but not great seasons. Even with future Hall of Famer Tim Duncans numbers taking a slight dip, Tony Parker is healthy again and Manu Ginobili has been quietly superb to start the season. With Richard Jefferson finally settling in after a dismal debut campaign a year ago and a cast of role playersrugged second-year big man DeJuan Blair and 26-year-old rookie sharpshooter Gary Neal, to name a fewcontributing nightly, longtime San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovichs squad certainly wont be an easy out for the Bulls.
@ Dallas-Nov. 19:
During the preseason, the Bulls got two looks at the deep and talented Mavericks, who are touting defensestop if youve heard this before in regards to an early-season Dallas teamas their calling card. With two above-average seven-footers manning the middle in ex-Bull Tyson Chandler and backup Brendan Haywood, the back-line support, defensive presence and rebounding chops to be a long-term threat this season certainly exist. Mavs superstar Dirk Nowitzki is showing no signs of slowing down, Jason Kidd is still a consummate floor general and scorers galoreJason Terry and Caron Butler, not to mention veteran energy guy Shawn Marionalso abound, making the final stop in the Texas Triangle another doozy.
@ Lakers-Nov. 23:
While the Bulls will get some much-needed days off upon their arrival on the West Coast, a formidable challenge in the form of the two-time defending champion Lakers comes with the trip to Los Angeles. Even though the Lakers are no longer undefeated, one can make the argument that they have been the most impressive team in the league at this point in the young season. Kobe Bryant has been better than many observers expected him to be with his litany of nagging injuries, Lamar Odom has been in playoff form after a summer of USA Basketball, Pau Gasol looks like the leagues best big man on most nights and Ron Artest picked up from the high note he left off in June. Additionally, newcomers Steve Blake and Matt Barnes have fit in well and Andrew Bynums absence has hardly been noticed, making for an already-dangerous bunch with a high ceiling for improvement.
@ Phoenix-Nov. 24:
The loss of Amare Stoudemire has been noticeable on a squad that already struggled with interior defense and rebounding. With Steve Nash still running things, however, Phoenix is never out of a gamejust ask the aforementioned Lakers, against whom the Suns hit 22 3-pointers Sundayand with a versatile array of underrated offensive talent around him, this game could be a shootout for the Bulls. Depending on which of last weeks games against run-and-gun opponents Chicago chooses to modelthe ugly loss to New York or the defensively-dominant win over Golden Stateit could either be a pleasant Thanksgiving for the team or a somber holiday in the Rockies.
@ Denver-Nov. 26:
The combination of mile-high altitude, an always-intense Denver home crowd and a chance of post-Turkey lethargy could all be factors in this contest. The Nuggets precarious health situation could give the Bulls a boost, but a revenge-minded team playing in front of their fans might balance things out. Duplicating the defensive effort made against Carmelo Anthony in Chicagosans his explosive third-quarter scoring burstis a tough task, but necessary for a team with big aspirations and a prideful defensive philosophy.
@ Sacramento-Nov. 27:
The weakest opponent on the trip is the final foe, which already sets off a red flag as a potential trap game, even keeping in mind memories of the Tyreke Evans-led 35-point Kings comeback win at the United Center last season. Sacramento, considered a Western Conference sleeper by some entering this season, has experienced issues with inexperience, discipline, chemistry, a porous defense and an off-key offense. Still, its a team with some talentchiefly Evans, fellow second-year player Omri Casspi, blue-collar power forward Carl Landry and high-risk, high-reward rookie big man DeMarcus Cousinsand the anticipation of returning to the Windy City is a dangerous distraction.
Given their difficulties on this trip in the pastand the fact that theyre still without Carlos Boozerfinishing 4-3 would be considered successful for the Bulls. In order to do that, winning two of the three Texas Triangle games will be key; Houston is winnable enough, but beating Dallas or San Antonio will be tough. Even with their lone significant break of the trip taking place in L.A., beating the defending champs will be an uphill battle, so a win in Phoenix the following night will be of the utmost importance with the post-Thanksgiving rematch against Denver looming. Obviously not looking past Sacramento before coming home will be significant, as the team will want to be on an upward swing upon returning to Chicago. A guess: 3-4, which is still respectable and would leave the Bulls relatively unscathed with hopes of Boozers imminent return.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.