Chicago Bulls' Schedule Breakdown and Record Predictions for December
With some pretty tough opponents on tap, the Chicago Bulls are going to need every advantage they can get to have a successful run before ushering in the New Year.
December 2014 is the second-busiest month of the season for this club with 15 games cued up for play. A majority of the contests will be at home, which should be a welcome relief from their road-heavy November stretch. The Bulls will face six teams from the West; intra-conference play will dominate the year’s concluding month.
As it stands now, nine of the December games are against teams who have winning records. Although things could change considerably in the weeks leading up to those faceoffs, it is an indicator of how competitive that part of the schedule should be.
The latter part of November has been tough on the Bulls, but there have been some positive breaks that bode well for the immediate future. Taj Gibson is out; however, Nikola Mirotic has been filling in very well, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Most importantly, Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol are active again.
As talented as this roster is on paper, they have had little opportunity to develop much chemistry. Continuity is going to be extremely important as the seasonal plot starts to thicken, and it can start in December. Let’s take a closer look at how things could pan out.
December 1 to December 5
|Opponent||vs. Dallas Mavericks||@ Charlotte Hornets||vs. Golden State Warriors|
|Date||Tuesday, December 2||Wednesday, December 3||Saturday, December 6|
December begins with the Bulls facing two of the upper-echelon teams of the Western Conference. The most prominent element is the back-to-back at home against the Dallas Mavericks and on the road against the Charlotte Hornets.
So far, Chicago has played a pair of games on consecutive nights on five different occasions. Each of the latter games required travel. The team’s record on the back end of those contests is 2-3. One of those losses was to the still-struggling Boston Celtics back on November 7, proof that nothing is a given in these kinds of situations.
The standout game here is the December 2 matchup against the Mavericks. This will be the first home game since November 15. Hometown fans will be excited to see their team and clamoring for a win as the Bulls have only managed to break even in the United Center—losing two of their last three there.
Dirk Nowitzki and company have been retooled in a manner similar to Chicago. Their front line and outside shooting have been greatly reinforced. Most positional head-to-heads are lessons in contraries—Nowiztki’s outside touch against Gasol’s post-up game, an offensively rejuvenated Monta Ellis squaring off against the defensively adept Jimmy Butler.
The second unit will be the difference maker in this contest. Thibodeau’s reserves are deep and skilled. If they can perform well, a win is within their grasp.
Chicago will then go to Charlotte and play the day after the game against Dallas. Despite their improvement last season and solid summer additions, the Hornets have underwhelmed since the October tipoff. This could very well be a trap game, but Steve Clifford’s group has not shown much that makes a case for them besting the Bulls.
On the other hand, the Golden State Warriors are off to a red-hot start. They are a team that has jelled, and that might be enough to give them the edge. A fully healthy Rose would give Chicago a good shot at besting Stephen Curry and company, but the former Memphis Tiger still seems to be acquiring his game legs.
Week 1 prediction: 2-1
December 7 to December 13
This is a very light work week. There is a three-day break leading up to the game against the Brooklyn Nets, which will help the numerous Chicago Bulls players nursing nagging injuries, most notably Gibson’s sprained ankle.
The five-year veteran sustained the damage during the November 21 game against the Portland Trail Blazers. It was deemed serious enough to send him home for the remainder of the road trip with the hopes that he could return to active status soon; the reserve forward is taking a cautious approach.
According to an article by Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com, Gibson said the recurring nature of this malady has tempered his usual desire to just get back on the court as soon as possible, “… Just talking to Derrick, talking to the guys, I have to be patient. I'm trying to run out there to try and play through these things; we have a long season. But it's just the dog in me that wants to be out there and play, and I have to just learn from this."
All eyes should be on the rematch against the Blazers. In addition to losing Gibson during their initial November match, the Bulls also suffered an 18-point defeat. Although it’s not possible to determine whether or not the 2014 Sixth Man of the Year runner-up will be ready to go, Rose and Gasol should be back after missing the prior contest between these teams.
Week 2 prediction: 2-0
December 14 to December 19
|Opponent||@ Miami Heat||@ Atlanta Hawks||vs. New York Knicks||@ Memphis Grizzlies|
|Date||Sunday, December 14||Monday, December 15||Thursday, December 18||Friday, December 19|
Week 3 of December is the most challenging as it includes a pair of back-to-back games—three of them on the road. Optimum health is going to be a big factor if the Bulls want to come out ahead in this grouping’s win column.
The December 14 contest against the Miami Heat stands out as the one to watch here. This is the first meeting between these clubs in the post-Big 3 era, but the South Beach ballers are not going to be pushovers as they still have Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and former Bull Luol Deng.
These teams have played each other with immense ferocity over recent years; however, it remains to be seen if that intensity is still prevalent. Pending health, Chicago is one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference, and the Heat are no longer the insuperable roadblock they once were. This game is worth the watch just to see how the Bulls still view their former spoilers.
Playing the Atlanta Hawks is going to be tough. Their starting group has very skilled big men and a talented backcourt. Chicago could lose that matchup, especially when factoring in the lack of prep time that will be available.
The New York Knicks are still mired in learning their new offensive system and have not shown signs of figuring things out any time soon. This is not the case with the Memphis Grizzlies, who are currently one of the league’s elite defensive teams.
Facing them on the tail end of consecutive games does not help Chicago’s chances of winning. The Bulls better hope that Memphis’ preceding games against the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs softens them up enough to pull out a win on the road. It's not likely, though.
Week 3 prediction: 2-2
December 21 to December 27
|Opponent||vs. Toronto Raptors||@ Washington Wizards||vs. Los Angeles Lakers||vs. New Orleans Pelicans|
|Date||Monday, December 22||Tuesday, December 23||Thursday, December 25||Saturday, December 27|
December’s fourth week eases things a bit by keeping the Bulls at home for three of their four games. It also features some of the league’s up-and-coming stars.
Of these four contests, the spotlight is fixed on what is going to be the first of a quartet of meetings with the Washington Wizards. Chicago wants to exact retribution on its first-round playoff ouster last season, and it begins on December 23.
Much of the young Wizards team is the same. Although they lost Trevor Ariza in free agency, they acquired a more than serviceable replacement in veteran Paul Pierce. This club also still has their formidable frontcourt pairing of Marcin Gortat and Nene Hilario to go with the phenomenal backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
The biggest difference between last season and the 2013-14 campaign is that Chicago is now playing with a very stacked deck. This game is a great start to measuring just how legitimate both teams are. Washington may hold the edge here as the Bulls will be coming off a hard-fought battle with the Toronto Raptors the previous night.
That December 22 home game against Raptors will be the second time these squads have played each other this season; Chicago edged out a win at the Air Canada Centre back on November 13. Size should be the difference as it was in the initial game. The Bulls still have the advantage there, so another win is very likely.
There’s not much to say about the Los Angeles Lakers this season. Kobe Bryant will still do what he has always done, but there is no one else on that team who can help enough to ensure they can be competitive.
The New Orleans Pelicans have a bona fide stud in Anthony Davis and talented crop of guards, but there are not a lot of players to fill out this team and make them consistently good. Davis will be a handful, but Chicago will win all other positional battles and earn a victory.
Week 4 prediction: 3-1
December 28 to December 31
|Opponent||@ Indiana Pacers||vs. Brooklyn Nets|
|Date||Monday, December 29||Tuesday, December 30|
December ends with the ninth back-to-back scheduling of 2014; Chicago will only have nine more such instances between January and April of 2015. These two games are the last of the month, but there are two more scheduled in the first few days of January which run in the same calendar week as these matchups.
The Bulls will have payback on their mind when they face off for the second time against the Indiana Pacers. The short-handed division rival bested Chicago at the United Center back on November 15.
With their best player Paul George out rehabbing a broken leg, the Pacers have relied more on their heart and hustle to win games. This is a circumstance the Bulls know all too well. A slow start in their first meeting cost them a win, but Thibodeau will surely correct that the second time around.
Facing off with Brooklyn immediately after should still be a win for Chicago because on December 29, the Nets will be in California taking on the Sacramento Kings only to immediately hop on a plane to play Bulls in Chicago the very next night. The old year should close out perfectly triumphantly.
Week 5 prediction: 2-0
Wrapping Up the Old Year
Final December record: 11 wins and 4 losses
The latter half of November is usually the toughest stretch of Chicago’s schedule as it involves a west coast swing that keeps them on the road for two weeks. This squad has weathered multiple health issues and lineup alterations on this season’s excursion. The lack of continuity caused them to go 2-3 against those Western Conference clubs, including their only consecutive losses of the season so far.
Player injuries are starting to dissipate, which should allow December to be the month to really start developing the familiarity this group needs in order to capitalize on its depth and balance.
There are a number of tough teams that will really measure the Bulls’ resolve; win or lose, the games will offer some valuable lessons for the second half of the season.
The best part of December is that Thibodeau and company will continue to get a sampling of the Western Conference big dogs. Starting in January, games with the top teams on the other side of the Mississippi will be few and far between.
So, as the end of 2014 approaches, personnel consistency is the operative focus. It will be important to have as many hands on deck as possible, even if some players are limited in playing time. If these guys can start to string together some consecutive games, it won’t be long before potential becomes reality.