Cup your hand to your ear and listen carefully.
What's that you hear? It's an alarm clock, one telling you the time has come to wake up and stop sleeping on a certain team in the Eastern Conference.
After Joakim Noah and the rest of the surging Chicago Bulls finished off a hard-fought comeback against the Dallas Mavericks with a 100-91 victory, there's no doubt they're here to stay. This team has been on quite the roll lately, and it's showing no signs of letting that stretch of play come to a close.
It gets better.
With win over Mavericks, Bulls have beaten last four and five of last six Western Conference teams. Tough conference? Right.— Sam Smith (@SamSmithHoops) March 1, 2014
This team should not be finding it so easy to win games in the NBA. Not after losing Derrick Rose and trading Luol Deng away for what essentially amounts to nothing (at least in terms of the 2013-14 season).
But despite what the odds say, the Bulls say something different.
With every fiber of their being, they're screaming that it's time to start taking them seriously.
Never Say Die
Sometimes, teams can win through sheer force of will. A certain level of talent is required to make that even remotely possible, but an advantage between the ears really can translate to the court.
The Bulls are not going to give up at any point during the 2013-14 season. They're not going to roll over and expose their bellies, nor are they going to do anything at less than 100 percent.
This is a Chicago team that understands it has to win every loose ball, fight for every possession and grit and grind its way to victory. Bumps and bruises be damned.
Bulls beat the Mavs in Dallas. People keep waiting for Chicago to disintegrate. Reason it hasn't happened? Thibs!— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) March 1, 2014
Fortunately, the Bulls have the man who should be Coach of the Year at their disposal. And fortunately, Tom Thibodeau has a certain long-haired center who deserves an increasing amount of Defensive Player of the Year hype at his.
Noah leads the league in screams of enthusiasm so loud and prolonged they make the veins in his neck stick out like they're going to explode per game (SOESLOAPTMTVIHNSOLTGTEPG, if you're looking for an abbreviation). He's also a dominant defensive player and rebounder who's never afraid to put his body in harm's way.
If you're looking for one picture that sums up the Bulls, it's this one:
How many times each game does a Chicago player end up on the floor, risking scrapes and floorburn all for the slight chance of corralling the orange sphere one extra time?
It's that never-say-die attitude that constantly surrounds the team from the Windy City.
There is no give in this squad, nor will there ever be while a certain coach with a gravelly voice is pacing the sidelines and stomping incessantly whenever he disagrees with a call or wants a little extra from his team.
Just a great win for the Bulls. They came back from a 16 point deficit and never quit in this one. Great D down the stretch.— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) March 1, 2014
The mentality was on display once again against the Mavericks, but when is it not?
Earlier this season, there was a question about whether the Bulls should tank. It first popped up after Rose was ruled out for the season with yet another knee injury, and then it came back after Luol Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew Bynum.
"There's no tanking, and that's it," Noah told ESPN Chicago's Jon Greenberg shortly after his small forward was shipped off to a new location. But he wasn't done. Not by a long shot.
"What do I say to those fans (who advocate tanking)?" the center vented to Nick Friedell, also of ESPN Chicago, after the Bulls' beat the Orlando Magic in triple overtime two days later. "I don't say nothing to those fans. It's all good. You're allowed to have your opinion. It's just...that's not a real fan to me. You know what I'm saying? You want your team to lose? What is that? But it's all good."
Giving up isn't just unacceptable for Chicago.
Defense Wins Championships
Winning in the NBA involves scoring more points than you give up, but that can happen in two different ways.
Some teams, like the Portland Trail Blazers, use offense to accomplish the difficult task, putting up points in bunches at the expense of playing defense. The Bulls are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Knowing that they can't score elite quantities, they always have to lock down defensively.
Bulls' limitations on offense make for greater appreciation of their defense. They know they have to clamp down nightly.— Steve Aschburner (@AschNBA) March 1, 2014
Was it offense that brought Chicago back into the game against Dallas?
Not exactly, as the Bulls managed to hold Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and the rest of the Mavericks to only 15 points in the final period. It's just par for the course, since this team has consistently been able to contain the best of the best, keeping them to ridiculously low point totals throughout the 2013-14 season.
Dallas, according to Basketball-Reference, went into the Friday night contest scoring 110.9 points per 100 possessions. Only the Blazers, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers are ahead of them on that leaderboard, and it's not like this is a fluke created by small sample size.
They'll be on the way down after being held to only 91 points by Thibodeau's suffocating squad.
Meanwhile, Chicago is only getting better and better.
Even before that impressive performance, the red-clad warriors were holding opponents to just 100.4 points per 100 possessions. The Indiana Pacers are the only team ahead of them in defensive rating, and there's a sizable gap between Chicago and the rest of the NBA.
Two nights before frustrating the Mavericks, the Bulls did the exact same thing to the Golden State Warriors, holding a potent group of offensive players that just tortured the New York Knicks to only 83 points. As K.C. Johnson wrote for the Chicago Tribune, "The Bulls have made a habit of limiting opponents below 90 points, doing so a league-best 14 times since the New Year."
So long as they keep doing exactly that, they'll keep winning games.
Will the Chicago Bulls finish the season with the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference?
The destruction of the Mavericks resulted in Chicago moving to 32-26 on the season, a pairing of wins and losses that leaves the Bulls tied with the Toronto Raptors for the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference. Despite their gaudy record in 2014, though, it's not quite time to put them in the same class as the Pacers and Heat.
However, that doesn't mean we should avoid taking them seriously.
At this stage of the 2013-14 campaign, overlooking the Bulls has some pretty dire consequences. Just as the Memphis Grizzlies are doing in the Western Conference, Chicago is quickly emerging as the team in the East no one wants to face.