BullsEye Blog

Neil Funk and Stacey King bring you behind-the-scenes insight and commentary on WGN's Chicago Bulls "BullsEye" blog. Also check out video of player interviews, photo galleries, and unique Bulls statistics from STATS, Inc.

Heading Down the Stretch

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The season is drawing to a close and the end of the regular schedule is in sight.   This is the time that teams look at their positioning and assess what is realistic as far as how high they can advance and what teams they might match up against in the post-season.

The Bulls are currently 6th in the Eastern Conference and would face the New York Knicks if the season ended today.   The Bulls schedule seems to be very favorable...with 11 games remaining, the Bulls play 8 games against non-playoff teams.   They are within 2 games of Brooklyn in the 4th spot.

The key for the remaining 11 games, however, is for the Bulls to get healthy.   This team has not been a streaky team...they have won no more than 3 games in a row, but they have had only one 3-game losing streak all season.    So, as the season winds down, I think you will see Tom Thibodeau rest guys to make sure everyone is healthy at season's end.

Are the Bulls Play-off Ready?

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 The simple answer to that question is "No".

And the reason for that is due to the current health situation of the team.  When you are down 2 starters and your best bench player, it creates a chain reaction.   The bench players have to play starters minutes and it shortens the bench rotation.

Ideally, you want to get everyone healthy with about 10 games remaining so you can re-establish rhythm and chemistry.

Getting healthy and rested are the 2 keys to being able to play your best basketball going into the play-offs.

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Building Rivalries

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In Chicago, we have enjoyed a couple of very intense rivalries during the championship run...Bulls/Pistons and Bulls/Knicks.   Those rivalries developed because of the matchups in the play-offs between the two teams.   The intense emotions then carry over to the next regular season when the teams square off and you have built-in story lines whenever those 2 clubs play each other.  

I don't believe that the cities' proximity to each other plays a big factor in the development of rivalries.  Another key element is that the 2 teams must continue to be competitive.   For example, the Bulls have really had the Pistons number for a long time and when those two teams meet, you don't find the emotionally-charged atmosphere from years past.

50 and Counting

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Last Sunday, Michael Jordan celebrated his 50th birthday, as did the rest of the NBA.  It was an occasion to remember some of the great moments and highlights of Jordan's Hall of Fame career.   When I look back, I remember how every night had the potential to be a night of greatness.   I suppose that the play-off games were more memorable for me.   It seemed that whenever it was required, Michael was there to take over a game or win it with a last shot.

Tonight, we are in Charlotte where Michael is the principle owner of the Bobcats...his 2nd go-around in the front office.   Since his GM days in Washington, I think MJ is smarter from that experience and I think success will come eventually.  

Jordan will always be part of the Bulls franchise having had the immeasurable success which translated into 6 championships.   Who knows, maybe someday Michael will return to the Bulls in some capacity, but until that happens we always will have the memories.

Getting Through the Injuries

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The recent spate of injuries hitting the Bulls in the last 10 days has once again tested the mettle of head coach Tom Thibodeau.   Kirk Hinrick, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer have all missed games....on top of Derrick Rose's absence all season.

That the Bulls have been able to win a couple of these games is due to two factors: the type of players on the roster and Tom's ability to have his players prepared, ready and motivated.

This roster is comprised of men who are committed, team players who know that they must be ready when their time comes and are able to take advantage of the opportunity.

Remember, too, that Tom preaches defense first and when you can defend as a team, you are likely to be in games near the end and have the chance to win.

Mile High Challenge

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Hello to all of my Peeps out there. Tonight the Bulls continue their February roadtrip in Denver. The Nuggets have been red-hot the last 7 games going undefeated. Danilo Gallinari leads Denver averaging 17.1 points and Kenneth Faried leads them on the glass averaging 9.7 rebounds. Derrick Rose is inching closer to his return. Every day it seems like his drills and exercises are gearing him up for his return. The Bulls and Nuggets start late tonight at 9:30pm ct on WGN in Chicago.


The NBA's Christmas Present

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for neil_funk.jpgThe slate of games on Christmas Day has become, maybe the NBA's premier marquee event, at least as far as the regular season goes.   Look no further back than last season when the league elected to open the lockout-delayed season on Christmas Day with their full slate of games, including Miami vs Dallas and the Bulls at the LA Lakers.  

The Christmas Day games provides the league a perfect showcase for its greatest stars and teams.  There was a time when the players weren't all that excited to travel on Christmas Eve and play on Christmas Day, but today's stars realize how important this showcase has become for the NBA to grow its product and reach out to new fans.

For me personally, I have seen the impact that Christmas Day games have made nationwide, and also how those appearances have energized the local fan bases...starting with the 76ers in the 1980s, to the Bulls' Championship teams of the 1990s and now that the Bulls are once again one of the premier teams in the NBA...you are seeing them appear in Christmas Day games for the 3rd year in a row.

Getting In and Staying In

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It's no secret that head coach Tom Thibodeau plays a short rotation, generally 3 or 4 deep on the bench.  It can be tough for young players to get game minutes, but Tom expects his young players to earn their minutes in practice.   They are expected to arrive early, stay late and work with the assistants on various aspects of their game.   Then, when their name is called, they have to be ready and they have to contribute.  

You can the see the results of Jimmy Butler's work ethic paying off this season.   Butler is averaging nearly 18 minutes a game.   Maybe his breakout game last season was a February match-up with the Knicks at Madison Square Garden where he was called upon to guard Carmelo Anthony.   Butler performed well and earned Tom Thibodeau's trust in a big-game situation.

Marquis Teague has not had his "breakout" game yet, but he has performed well when called upon.  Tonight could be an interesting situation if Marquis gets into the game against his older brother, Jeff, who is the Hawks' starting point guard.

Bulls Game Notes For Tuesday vs. Celtics

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* Boston won the first meeting between these teams this season, 101-95, with Luol Deng leading all scorers with 26 points.
* The Bulls were defeated by Memphis on Monday, 80-71, their lowest scoring output of the season. Chicago is 3-2 in the second of back-to-back games this season.
* The Celtics have lost each of their last two games, while being held below 90 points in each of those contests. Boston will be looking to avoid losing three consecutive games for the first time this season.

* Boston's leading scorer, Paul Pierce, has scored 15 points or less in three of his last four trips to Chicago. Pierce was held to just 10 points in the first matchup between these clubs earlier this season.

* Luol Deng has scored 20+ points in three straight and in five of his last six games against the Celtics.

* Marco Belinelli has scored in double digits in seven consecutive games and in three of his last four games against Boston.

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Bulls Game Notes For Monday @ Memphis

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* The Bulls have won three of their last four meetings between these teams, however, they have lost six of their last seven trips to Memphis.
* The Bulls have won two straight and five of their last six games overall and will be looking to extend their current road winning streak to five in a row.

* The Grizzlies saw their three game losing streak come to an end with a 99-86 victory over Utah on Saturday. Memphis' 9-2 home record is tied for the third-best home record among Western Conference teams this season.

* Carlos Boozer is averaging 20.5 points in his career against Memphis - the highest scoring average in his career against any opponent.

* Zach Randolph, who has scored in double figures in all but one of his 21 games this season, has posted an NBA-leading 17 double-doubles this season

* Memphis owns the second-best scoring defense in the NBA this season (90.9 ppg all.), while Chicago owns the third-best mark (90.9 ppg all.).

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