Bulls better hit the ground running… and shooting


Dec 6

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The Bulls are a potential championship team for the 2011-12 season.

But they’ll be fortunate to win 50 games.

And maybe not that many early in a brutal stretch of 30 games in 50 nights, the Frightening Fifty days.

It will include seven of the first nine on the road, 19 games in January and a nine games in 12 days stretch.

But it likely won’t be easy, anyway, with the reduced 66-game schedule and a month of games having to be shoe horned into the schedule that is extended a week to April 26.

This season, especially early, may require considerable patience from the Bulls, or at least the fans, because it may not look very good for awhile with the large number of early road games. It’s quite possible the Bulls could be a .500 type team through the first month of the season and then be able to make a push, like last season, later in the season with a softer second half schedule. That might be preferable as in the last shortened season, 1998-99, both Finals teams, the Spurs and Knicks, played .500 ball the first part of the season.

With Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, the notion is the Bulls would have the young legs to make a fast start. But they are not that young with Carlos Boozer and Keith Bogans, or, presumably, a veteran replacement, and not a particularly athletic team depending on whether they make a major addition in the next few weeks. So while a shortened season is considered more of a sprint, the Bulls might do well with just a good closing kick.

It’s also clear the Bulls have climbed to the league’s elite in the NBA’s view. Which is nice, but also puts you up more often against the toughest competition.

The Bulls will play the Miami Heat four times in a replay of the Eastern Conference finals despite the teams being in different divisions. Yet, some teams in the Heat’s own division will play Miami just three times.

It’s an acknowledgement by the NBA in remaking the 2011-12 schedule since the acceptance of a new labor agreement that the Bulls and Heat are one of the premier marquee matchups the NBA wants to feature.

The games are Jan. 29 at Miami, a Sunday, Wednesday March 14 in Chicago, Thursday April 12 in Chicago and Thursday April 19 at Miami. All are expected to be national TV games on ABC, TNT and ESPN.

The Bulls also will play the Knicks four times and the Celtics four times, both Atlantic Division attractions, while playing Central Division foes Indiana and Cleveland three times each.

It would make a good case for eliminating divisions completely, certainly for the shortened season, and judging the top eight for the playoffs by conference only. You can also hear the small market teams screaming as they’re apparently being denied some of the top attraction teams for home dates while the top teams face one another.

Though not quite in all cases.

The Bulls were supposed to open the 2011-12 season in Dallas against the NBA champions. They’ll play the Mavericks just once, and not until Saturday April 21 in Chicago. That will be during the extra week the league added to finish the regular season.

The Bulls will open their home schedule New Year’s Day against Memphis at 7 p.m.

The Bulls will cut their schedule substantially against Western Conference teams. They won’t travel this season to Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Utah, Portland or Houston. That should ease the schedule some with the only Western Conference trip the first week of the season.

As we know, the Bulls will open against the Lakers in Los Angeles on Christmas Day at 4 p.m. Central time and then play in Golden State Dec. 26, Sacramento Dec. 29 and back in Los Angeles against the Clippers Dec. 30 — a pair of back to backs — before returning for that Jan. 1 home opener.

The rest of the Western Conference games are primarily single day trips out for a game in the Central time zone, like San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Memphis and back. The Bulls again get the prestigious Martin Luther King Day game in Memphis Jan. 16 at noon.

The Bulls lose the famous opening month road trip in November. But there’ll still be the long trip in late January and February when Disney on Ice is at the United Center. And that will be nine consecutive road games.

However, all but New Orleans will be in the Eastern Conference. After opening that January/February trip with four in five nights, a tough stretch in Miami, Philadelphia and New York, the Bulls will play alternate days the next five games ending in Boston for a Sunday national TV game Feb. 12.

Overall, the Bulls are scheduled for 19 back to back sets with two the first week and one three in three nights, Jan. 9-11 hosting Detroit, in Minnesota and hosting Washington.

Part of the Bulls’ most difficult stretch will be Jan. 6 through Jan. 17 when the Bulls play that Jan. 9-11 three night set along with three back to backs for nine games in 12 days. With the opening Western trip, that stretch will conclude seven back to backs in the first 24 days of the truncated season.

The key for the Bulls will be surviving that first 30 games with 20 of them on the road, 10 back to backs with one three in three nights stretch in that and all in 50 days. In that brutal stretch, the Bulls will play in Boston twice and in Los Angeles against the Clippers and Lakers, in Miami, Orlando and New York.

After the All-Star break, the Bulls only have one trip more than two games and none west of the Central time zone.

So it would be important for the Bulls to have a group coming into camp in good shape and ready to go quickly. Veterans of 1998-99 lockout season, which was just 50 games, will tell you it was important to get a quick start as it was more sprint than the usual marathon. Though Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks (not exactly called that by everyone then) opened slowly with injuries and just barely qualified for the playoffs with a 6-2 finish after falling to .500. The eventual champion Spurs started 8-8. But they went on to a 37-13 mark, which tied for best in the league. If the Bulls play at the same pace this season, it would give them 49 wins.

So what it means is no one can exactly tell you how to succeed in a short season. I’d say it is to have the best players, and the Bulls have a nice start on that with the reigning MVP, Rose.

The Bulls will not play either Los Angeles team at home. Phoenix, Sacramento, New Orleans, Memphis, Utah, Portland, Denver and Dallas will be the Western teams coming into the United Center. Which means home fans won’t get to see Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Monta Ellis or Blake Griffin, all among the league’s top dozen scorers last season.

The Bulls will be on network national TV with six Sunday games once the NBA starts the national games with ABC. Last season, there were two such games and against Miami and Orlando, teams regarded ahead of the Bulls. All six Bulls Sunday games because of conflicts with hockey will be on the road. The Sunday games are against Miami, Boston, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, New York and Detroit.

The All-Star game will be Feb. 26 in Orlando. The Bulls then play once in Orlando after the trading deadline.

The Bulls play 16 of their last 25 games at home with only two trips of more than one game. That should give the Bulls a good chance for a strong close, like they had last season when they won 21 of their last 23.

The Bulls play in one of five Christmas Day games, one of the two televised nationally on ABC.

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