Sunday's Game Will Decide Bulls' Playoff Fate

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Sunday's Game Will Decide Bulls' Playoff Fate

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

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

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.
NOAH AND DENG SURPRISINGLY SHARP IN RETURN

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.

GIBSON NOW A PART OF BULLS CORE FOR THE FUTURE

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.

PHOTO: Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose reunite at Cubs-Dodgers game

PHOTO: Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose reunite at Cubs-Dodgers game

Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose may not be teammates anymore, but that didn't stop them from catching up on the west coast while watching a familiar Chicago team.

The former set of Bulls teammates happened to bump into each other at the Cubs-Dodgers game on Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles, where they both work out in the offseason.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016-17 season, Bulls fans!]

Rose and Butler likely haven't seen each other since the trade that sent Rose to the New York Knicks over the summer.

Butler shared the picture on his Instagram with Rose and his son P.J., capturing a cool moment after speculation of a reported rift during their time together in Chicago never seemed to go away:

three cats at a cubs and dodgers game.

A photo posted by Jimmy Butler (@jimmybutler) on

Dwyane Wade's cousin shot and killed in Chicago

Dwyane Wade's cousin shot and killed in Chicago

On Thursday, Dwyane Wade appeared on an ESPN special for The Undefeated to talk about gun violence. The next day, Wade's cousin was shot and killed in Chicago.

Nykea Aldridge was pushing a baby stroller in the Chicago neighborhood of Parkway Gardens when she was shot and killed. Aldridge was 32 and a mother of four.

Police said she was not the intended target and one person was taken into custody as a result of the incident.

Wade's words during his appearance on the ESPN panel took on extra meaning after Friday's shooting.

"It's important for all of us to help each other, to go back and say 'You know what, where did this start, how did this start? Let's see how we can change there,'" Wade said on ESPN. "It's deep-rooted and this is something that didn't start today. This is something that's not going to end tomorrow. But this is something that we can start a conversation, we can start the work today and hopefully eventually we can stop it."

Wade tweeted after the shooting.

Windy City Bulls fill out roster in D-League expansion draft

Windy City Bulls fill out roster in D-League expansion draft

The Windy City Bulls are beginning to feel more like a real team.

On Wednesday, the Chicago Bulls' new NBA D-League franchise that will play games in Hoffman Estates beginning this season participated in the league's expansion draft.

As one of three new expansion teams joining the NBA D-League this season, the Windy City Bulls were allowed to select 12 players from the other 19 teams in the league. Each returning D-League team was allowed to protect the rights to 10 players on each roster with two players being available to the Bulls, Long Island Nets and Greensboro Swarm.

The Bulls acquired the rights to 12 players as here's the rundown of who they selected.

Round 1: Wesley Saunders, G/F, Harvard (Austin Spurs)
Round 2: Kiwi Gardner, G, Midland College (Santa Cruz Warriors)
Round 3: Ralph Sampson III, C, Minnesota (Maine Red Claws)
Round 4: Booker Woodfox, G, Creighton (Texas Legends)
Round 5: Jerel McNeal, G, Marquette (Northern Arizona Suns)
Round 6: Akeem Richmond, G, East Carolina (Reno Bighorns)
Round 7: Casey Prather, G/F, Florida (Northern Arizona Suns)
Round 8: Jon Octeus, G, Purdue (Canton Charge)
Round 9: Justin Dentmon, G, Washington (Texas Legends)
Round 10: Jamal Jones, F, Texas A&M (Delaware 87ers)
Round 11: Xavier Thames, G, San Diego State (Fort Wayne Mad Ants)
Round 12: Ian Chiles, C, Morgan State (Salt Lake City Stars)

It's important to note that although the Bulls have the rights to these 12 players for two seasons that many of them might never suit up for the team. Many players from this expansion draft group will head overseas to pursue professional opportunities there. If they do end up signing a D-League contract, the Bulls will have right of first refusal, giving the Bulls rights to these players for two seasons.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Among the notables picked by the Bulls include the 5-foot-7 Gardner, who has had a successful D-League stint in the past as well as some experience in the Saudi Premier League. Local college hoops fans will probably recognize the 6-foot-3 McNeal from his days at Marquette where he played for one season with Bulls star Jimmy Butler. McNeal also has more NBA experience than anyone on the expansion list as he most recently finished out the 2014-15 season with the Phoenix Suns. Former Washington product Justin Dentmon is also a native of Carbondale as the 6-foot-0 guard helped Carbondale High School to a fourth-place finish in the 2004 IHSA Class AA state basketball tournament.

Windy City will tip off the season with a home opener at Sears Centre on Friday, Nov. 11. The 2016-17 D-League schedule was released earlier this week as Windy City will have 24 home games, including 16 that will be played on Friday or Saturday night. 

While the Windy City roster will look very different from this expansion draft list, the Windy City Bulls should help the main Bulls franchise develop young talent in a nearby location as it will be the start of a very intriguing dynamic.