Sunday's Game Will Decide Bulls' Playoff Fate


Sunday's Game Will Decide Bulls' Playoff Fate

Monday, Apr.5, 2010
4:50 P.M.

By Mark Schanowski

So, what do you think? Will the Bulls make the playoffs for a 2nd straight season? Please post your comments in the section below.

Give the players and coaching staff a lot of credit for not giving up in the wake of all the injuries and the frustration of a ten-game losing streak. Things looked pretty bleak with a 31-37 record, and Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Derrick Rose all trying to return from injuries. But since that time, the Bulls have gone 6-2, and they're now just one game behind Toronto for the final playoff spot in the East. The Raptors have already clinched the season series against the Bulls, which means they'll get the playoff spot if the two teams wind up with the same record. So, that puts everything on Sunday's match-up in Toronto. The Bulls MUST win that game to have any chance to get back to the post-season.

Toronto has been a tough team for the Bulls to handle in recent seasons. Not only do they have one of the best power forwards in the game in free-agent-to-be Chris Bosh, but point guard Jose Calderon has hurt the Bulls in the past, and Toronto also has a couple of big men who can nail the 3 point shot in Andrea Bargnani and Hedo Turkoglu. They've been able to spread the Bulls' defense and find open shooters to knock down the 3. Even rookie shooting guard DeMar DeRozan has hurt the Bulls this season with his ability to penetrate and finish at the rim. Toronto may be a .500 team that's struggled against some inferior teams, but they've played like world beaters against the Bulls. The Raptors have some tough games coming up, including a match-up with Cleveland Tuesday night, but the Bulls have an even harder schedule over the final 9 days of the regular season, so it figures to come down to which team wins the showdown in Toronto on Sunday.

No one really knew what to expect from Noah and Deng after their extended absence from game competition, but they've made a huge difference in the Bulls' play over the last few games. Noah is back in the starting line-up, playing big minutes, and he put up a double-double in the win over Charlotte on Saturday. Deng was knocking down jumpers in his return against Washington last Friday, and he moved back into the starting line-up against Charlotte, clinching the victory with a late steal and lay-up. The Bulls probably would have beaten Phoenix last week if Deng had been able to play. Their lack of size allowed Jason Richardson and Grant Hill to score easily against smaller defenders, and the Suns got several key offensive rebounds with the game on the line in the 4th quarter. Now, with Noah and Deng back, the Bulls can put a legitimate NBA line-up on the floor at all times, and they can even go big with Brad Miller at center and Noah at the power forward. It's amazing what having a mostly healthy roster has meant to the Bulls confidence level and body language in recent games. There's no doubt in my mind the Bulls would be competing for the 5th or 6th spot in the East if not for the rash of injuries that led to all those losses in March.


And let's not forget about Taj Gibson, who's emerged as one of the steals of last summer's draft. Gibson posted double-doubles in each of the Bulls' wins over the weekend, and the coaching staff now has enough confidence in him to run post-up plays, especially in the early going. Not much was expected of Gibson when the Bulls drafted him with the 26th overall pick in round one, but he's been a consistent contributor from day one, and ran with the starting position after Tyrus Thomas broke his arm 5 games into the season. LeBron James specifically mentioned Gibson when he was asked about the Bulls roster last month, and he gave the rookie a post-game hug following a narrow Cleveland win at the United Center. Now, I'm not saying Taj Gibson will be a big factor in LeBron's free agent decision this summer, but the King knows the Bulls have a talented, young roster that's ready to win with the addition of the right free agent. If you put LeBron or Dwyane Wade on a Bulls' team with Rose, Noah, Deng, Gibson and Kirk HInrich, they're instantly a contender to win the NBA title. The upcoming free agent class is loaded with All-Star caliber power forwards like Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer and David Lee, but given Gibson's emergence as a quality starter, look for the Bulls to go hard after LeBron and D-Wade first, before moving on to the power forward group. They might even see if Atlanta's Joe Johnson would be willing to come for less than a max offer and see if they can add another free agent at a lower price. If the Bulls are able to trade Hinrich sometime around the NBA draft, they might even be able to free up enough cap room to extend offers to both Johnson and Lee. It's all pretty fluid right now, with the teams with cap room trying to work through all kinds of potential scenarios for what might happen when the clock strikes midnight on June 30thJuly 1st.

But don't give up on the possibility of the Bulls landing either LeBron or D-Wade. You can bet the Bulls' front office will be in there making a serious pitch, and Wade's desire to be with his two children who are living with their mother in the Chicago area might also play into his free agent decision. Wade and his estranged wife are currently going through a messy divorce, with Wade now filing for custody of his children. Who knows if the circumstances in his personal life might lead him to decide a return to Chicago is in his best interests. It's just one more factor to watch as we close in on the long-awaited free agent chase of 2010.

I'll see you from the United Center Tuesday during the 6:30 edition of SportsNite as we get ready for the Bulls-Bucks game. Milwaukee suffered a devastating injury over the weekend with the loss of starting center Andrew Bogut. Bogut was playing the best basketball of his young career, and the Bucks just aren't the same team without him. If you saw the fall Saturday night, it was one of the scariest injuries we've seen in awhile. Bogut broke his right hand, and also dislocated his right elbow. Hopefully, he can make a complete recovery and get back to playing basketball next season. But don't count the Bucks out just yet. Scott Skiles is one of the best coaches in the league, and he'll find a way to come up with the right line-up combinations to give his team a chance to win. The Bulls better be ready for a battle Tuesday night.

Bulls exploring signing former Celtics shooting guard R.J. Hunter

Bulls exploring signing former Celtics shooting guard R.J. Hunter

According to CSN Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill, the Bulls are exploring signing former Celtics shooting guard R.J. Hunter.

The Bulls currently have one open roster spot.

Hunter, a first-round pick of the Celtics in 2015, appeared in 38 games as a rookie. He struggled from the field, shooting just 36.7 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from deep. He ultimately lost out on a roster spot this preseason in a crowded Celtics backcourt.

Hunter was the darling of the 2015 NCAA Tournament playing for his father at Georgia State. Hunter hit a game-winning 3-pointer against Baylor to propel the 14th-seeded Panthers to an opening-round win.

Hunter was a two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year, averaging 19.7 points per game as a junior.

The Bulls open their 2016-17 season tomorrow night against the Celtics.

Stay with for more updates on this story.

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.”