Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls get the season going in Los Angeles versus the Lakers in the first of four straight games on the west coast. Dates with Golden State, Sacramento and the Clippers complete the Bulls tour of duty in California. Each game on the trip will provide a test.
For Rose, it is the beginning of cementing himself as a top-five player in the league. Several people have him on the outside looking in to this group but with a opening schedule that shapes up the way that it does, a 4-0 start silences everyone. It's a far cry to ask for respect when you are aguably the best player at your postition but with Rose, he suffers for not being extremely out-going. His game does the talking.
For the rest of the team, they will look to build chemistry. Last season started with an injured Carlos Boozer and Keith Bogans as the starting shooting guard. This time out, you have Boozer fully healthy and noticably slimmer after losing 20 pounds. Also, the new starting guard is Richard Hamliton, a player who the Bulls targeted around the 2010-11 trade deadline. As a matter of fact, Hamilton and the Detroit Pistons couldn't agree to terms on a buyout which caused a delay in what should be considered one of the NBA offseason's worst kept secrets when he joined the Bulls. The must-see moment will be how will the Bulls respond as a team while starting the season with four straight games on the road.
As to the trip, every year, as Bulls fans know, the Bulls go on two lengthy odysseys out west and each time, they struggle. They usually become road warriors during the inconvenient "circus trip" but the log-lasting lockout effectively eliminated that. Nevertheless, last season the road woes were few and far between. After going 4-3 then 3-2 respectively last season, it was the third straight time that the Bulls were over .500 on the west coast trip after struggling several seasons. Maybe this trip will be more successful.
The Bulls have played the Lakers tough even during the Tyson Chandler-Eddy Curry years. Kobe Bryant loves playing against the Bulls and averaged 26.5 points a game in the last four meetings between the two teams. Pau Gasol has been tough inside versus the Bulls, but this time out there is no Lamar Odom (trade) and Andrew Bynum (suspension) and that will make this game winnable. Add to that, the Lakers are coached by Mike Brown now, who is a far cry from Phil Jackson and runs a different system. Still, the "Black Mamba" still wears a Lakers uniform and that makes them tough.
Golden State likes to run and with Richard Hamilton added to the Bulls, they will be more of a half-court team. It will be a test of wills and the first back-to-back that the Bulls have. Like the Lakers, the Warriors have a new coach as well in first time head coach Mark Jackson. No one knows what type of coach he will be, but guard Monta Ellis has always been a thorn in the Bulls' side. Golden State has a game with the Clippers tonight and will be playing on a few less hours of rest.
Remember the Sacramento game for the Bulls two seasons ago? The one where they blew a huge 35-point lead? Derrick Rose does. It's what makes him different from the Kevin Durrant's and LeBron James' of the world. He takes notes and will personally hand the improving Kings a smashing. It will be close early on, but the biggest test with the Kings is just a matter of the Bulls suffering from being road-weary.
The last game of the trip is back to the Staples Center to face a team they call "Lob City," better known as the Clippers. With Chris Paul arriving via trade, they will be dangerous. The biggest obstacle for the Bulls will be the Clippers front court size. A game like this will provide a true sign as to how good the depth is. This game has Jimmy Butler and C.J. Watson written all over it. Meaning the bench should get a ton of playing time if the Bulls are out of it early. Paul might get his first win over Derrick Rose.
My west coast trip prediction has the Bulls going 3-1.