Wednesday, December 22, 2004

All I want for Christmas...

Tonight is a big basketball night for me. First off, there is of course the Bulls game against Detroit. Ben Wallace might be out, which I'm sure will bring a smile to Eddy Curry's face. Can they keep 'the streak' alive at 5? I hope so so I can continue to write cheesy sentences like the previous one.

And also tonight is the annual Braggin' Rights game between Illinois and Missouri. Like the game's sponsor, Busch Light, the game could be watered down due to Illinois superior talent (the Illini have won 4 straight). But also like Busch Light, the game will be delicious since the game will  be attended by rabid fans on both sides and I would assume both teams will have similar energy. Maybe not  such a competitive game though, I think Illinois will win by 20+.  

Will the Bulls do the same? Along with a laptop under the Christmas tree that result is a fantasy. But....they could give em a game.

This will be my last post before the holidays, so I'll use it as another chance to sappily thank my readers. With the recent upturn in play by the Bulls I've noticed my web counters going up, which is a pretty good gift, albeit not laptop-good.

parting shot: someone send this headline to Jay Leno.

Monday, December 20, 2004


So maybe we all can officially get excited now. The Bulls have a 4 game winning streak, their first since 1998, after beating the Portland TrailBlazers 92-87.

This was not a perfect victory by any means, yet the Bulls always seemed in control. They led the game big early after big starts by Kirk Hinrich and Antonio Davis only to have it slip away to a 1-point halftime deficit. The Bulls flipped the usual script of coming out flat to start the 2nd half, this time being the aggressors as Eddy Curry led them to a 10 point lead going into the fourth. The Blazers, who were without Shareef Abdur-Rahim today, managed to make it close, but late scoring by Ben Gordon put the game away. Gordon nailed a long 3 to complement a variety of floaters in the paint, and was scoring to the point where it was clear Portland had no answer for him - on his way to 23 points on 10-15 shooting. Even Eddy was converting his touches at the end of the game, and finished with a strong 18 and 8.

(Side note on Gordon: While he did play extremely well tonight and has emerged as the 'closer' this team desperately needs, this game still showed some weaknesses. First off he has to get to the line more, especially since he's such a good foul shooter. He has only attempted 43 FTA compared to 230 FGA before tonight's game, and had 1 FTA tonight. Also, his defense against opposing pgs need work, as Damon Stoudamire went off for 22 in 29 minutes.)

But while I'll have a little smile all day tomorrow after this win, I couldn't help but be a little miffed to read AP game report and Tribune headline focusing in on a face in the crowd: Michael Jordan.

I'm not gonna go off and claim that Jordan doesn't deserve to be a part of the organization, although there is a case to be made for that. I'm happy that seeing Jordan there got the crowd pumped, and seeing him there cheering his boy Ben Gordon did bring a smile to my face.

But I can already predict Jay Mariotti's column tomorrow proclaiming how Jordan being at the game signifies a brand new day of Bulls basketball. That his appearance validates the good feelings this team is starting to generate around them. But this win, this streak,  and more importantly, obvious improvement in play, shouldn't be about Michael Jordan's enjoyment. It should be for Hinrich, Gordon, Deng, Coach Skiles and most importantly Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler, who (for albeit a short time) seem to showing what Jerry Krause had crazily envisioned when he acquired them.

This is a new Bulls team, and its possible due to their youth and lack of talent they will not keep their winning ways. But if they do.... Michael Jordan, like us, is merely along for the ride.

Sunday, December 19, 2004


The Bulls go for 4 in a row Monday night at home against Portland. (perhaps not so)Surprisingly if it is achieved it'll be the Bulls first 4-game winning streak 1998, and therefore the first time since the dynasty.

Saturday night's win against the undermanned Pacers wasn't pretty, but like in the Milwaukee game its nice to see the team winning games they should. In the past I would suggest that maybe the Bulls should be careful tomorrow whereas not to get overconfident after the meager achievements they've been racking up lately, but this year's squad doesn't seem to need such advice. Skiles and Paxson seemed to have assembled a team that plays hard no matter what: never getting too up or down in the roller-coaster ride that is the NBA season. Perhaps now I'm the one who's overconfident, but I go into games now not dreading horrid offensive starts.

Speaking of starts, Antonio Davis may be unavailable for the vaunted 4-in-a-row try after getting whacked in the jaw, but the Bulls have surprising depth:

If Davis is out, the Bulls might continue bringing Tyson Chandler off the bench, a role in which they like his enthusiasm and energy. If that's the case, veteran Othella Harrington will start, good timing for a player who produced a big fourth quarter Saturday night after barely playing this month.

The Bulls have had success in their three straight victories by dusting off a seldom-used veteran in the fourth quarter, when the young players have started to play like, well, young players.

"We talked about that with the team," Skiles said. "It was [Adrian Griffin] in Memphis, [Eric Piatkowski] against Milwaukee and [Harrington] against Indiana. This is a nice spot for me to be in as a coach. There's nobody on my roster that doesn't deserve to play. There aren't two or three guys who aren't doing their jobs, showing up late, messing around.

"I go home feeling bad that I can't get certain guys into the game because everybody's doing what they're supposed to be doing. These veterans are setting a good example. Some nights, they don't get to play. But every time I've looked down there and put one of them in, they've contributed big."

Replacing AD with Harrington isn't just avoiding a dropoff, its a definitive upgrade. Harrington is 2nd on the team with a +/- ratio of +11.5, well ahead of Davis at -0.9. Davis has played far more minutes which certainly hurts his case, having someone like Harrington to plug in when needed is a nice luxury for such a bad (or at least poor record) team. 

While I agree with the decision not to change Tyson's role off the bench (if it ain't broke...), Tyson may be relied on for major minutes against the Blazers. Their frontcourt of Zach Randolph and Theo Ratliff is going to be a big test, and Tyson might be pressed into action early if Randolph starts hot. Skiles should consider putting Eddy Curry on Randolph. Randolph uses his size to muscle other forwards into position, something he can't do with even a slimmed-down Eddy. And surprisingly enough Eddy has been playing good defense lately, most notably his improbable work on Kevin Garnett last week. Another matchup to look for will be Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni on Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Portland likes to put a big lineup out there with Rahim playing alongside Ratliff and Randolph, so Deng and Noc will have to do their best not to be overwhelmed by Rahim's post ability.

Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks has an ace up his sleeve on the defensive end with Ratliff. Ratliff's shot-blocking ability will make Eddy think twice before going for his patented right-handed jump hooks. If he tries to go right at Ratliff with tunnel vision he may get frustrated early and eventually drift into a night of ineffectiveness. Eddy will have to do a good job of recognizing the defense and making sound passes, something he's been doing pretty well lately(notice all of my kind words for Eddy?).  Now it's another matter of whether Tyson can actually catch that pass....

The Blazers aren't dominating at 12-11, but they will be a great test assuming they will not take the Bulls lightly like Minnesota and Dallas undoubtedly did. I'm not placing this matchup in the 'should-win' category like the last 2 games, but on the other hand momentum can be a powerful thing, and its always nice to see a post-dynasty futility mark fall by the wayside.