If you are a Chicago Bulls fan, please curb your enthusiasm. The Bulls are currently atop the NBA Central, but have their playoff odds increased? Before the season, oddshark.com had the Bulls' odds to win the NBA Champion at 18-1. Now they are riding high with a three-game winning streak, and the Bulls have played well behind team basketball.
The Bulls have even made an impression on their injured star, Derrick Rose. At a holiday party the Bulls hosted for 100 children, Rose talked to reporters and praised his teammates.
Rose on the Bulls’ play of late (via CSNChicago.com)
They're playing good basketball. They're learning how to close out games towards the end. They're making smart plays, playing with each other and moving the ball. That's something we've been doing great.
Smart decision making on the offensive end is one reason why they are playing the best basketball all season. It is imperative for the Bulls to move the basketball. When they successfully do so, they can go toe-to-toe with every NBA team not named the Miami Heat.
The Bulls' defense will always keep them in close games. If the offense is clicking on all cylinders, they can win close to 50 games this season.
Passing has been sharp, and the floor spacing has led to good shooting.
Sharing the basketball is a perfect recipe for winning, and the Bulls are doing that. On most teams, you will have one player who sets up his teammates. Every Bulls player looks to find ways to get their teammates easy shots.
Take the Bulls frontcourt tandem of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer as an example. You have two of the NBA's best passing big men. When Noah has the ball at the top of the key, he searches for a cutting Boozer, and it becomes an easy basket for Boozer. When Boozer has the ball, Noah travels baseline, collects the pass and takes a layup or dunk.
In the game against the Detroit Pistons, Noah scored 30 points and 23 rebounds, both career-highs, and handed out six assists. Many of his offensive rebounds resulted into 23-second chance points for him and his teammates. Boozer (24 points) was the recipient of several Noah passes. Noah scored his share of points via Boozer.
Joakim Noah talked to reporters (via NBA.com) after his career performance.
I don't think my game changed that much. I'm just more comfortable, knowing where I can be effective and how to get my hooks off. I feel a lot more comfortable shooting the ball, too. I'm just more comfortable on the court and I work hard on my game.
Noah was stopped by CSN Chicago's Aggrey Sam after the Pistons' game to discuss his career night.
Passing is one the Bulls' calling cards on offense. The Bulls have also begun playing inside-out, allowing their low-post game to dictate the pace.
Kirk Hinrich has done a good job of dishing the ball inside to Boozer, Noah and Luol Deng. When the entry pass is made, whoever receives the pass has three choices: Take the shot, find the cutter going to the basket or pass the ball to a shooter along the perimeter.
This has helped Hinrich improve his shooting percentage. He is shooting 35 percent from the field, up from the 29 percent he was shooting as recent as November 20. Marco Belinelli has flourished from the Bulls playing inside-out as well. The team as a whole has experienced fewer scoring droughts using this strategy.
The Bulls have been stingy as usual on defense. They are third in the NBA in points allowed, giving up just over 91 (91.3) points a game. This includes holding a high-scoring New York Knicks team to 85 points in their recent 93-85 win.
The Knicks were without their leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony, but that same Knicks team shelled the Heat with 112 points two days prior.
The Bulls played up and down before their three-game win streak. Their 11-8 record has included terrible losses. Blowing a 27-point lead to the Milwaukee Bucks and fourth-quarter tailspins against the New Orleans Hornets, Portland Trailblazers and Indiana Pacers are reasons to believe the Bulls still have work to do.
Which team will win the NBA Central?
They also have yet to play through the difficult stretch of the season.
Two of those average teams are the Bucks and Pacers, the Bulls' Central Division rivals.
The Central Division is the Bulls' best route to the NBA playoffs. Winning the division guarantees a top-four seed in the playoffs. With that, the Bulls could draw a favorable first-round opponent.
The division is up for grabs.
The Pacers have forward Danny Granger sidelined after receiving a knee injection, and they have struggled without him. Granger was the Pacers' leading scorer, so the team misses his shooting.
As for the Bucks, they have questionable depth in the frontcourt and a small backcourt.
The Bulls, on the other hand, are without Derrick Rose, but they have Deng, Noah and Boozer. They all are NBA All-Star level players who are capable of putting teams on their backs.
If they do not win the division, the playoff picture gets murky.
If the season continues the way it has, the Bulls will have company while competing for the last three or four playoff spots.
The Boston Celtics will improve as their team continues to develop chemistry. The Atlanta Hawks will be one of the teams vying for one of the last playoff spots, along with the Philadelphia 76ers. The other Central Division contenders will also battle for the playoffs.
The odds of the Bulls making the playoffs are 91.4 percent according to sportsclubstats.com’s playoff projector. Those odds will increase if Derrick Rose returns and can play at 75 percent of his capacity.
Although one quarter of an NBA season is too small of a fraction in a long 82 game stretch, the Bulls are well positioned for their fifth consecutive playoff berth.