11/29/21: After 21 games, which way are the Bulls headed?

A bumpy week has created some clear questions for the Bulls and their dreams.

Nikola Vucevic Chicago Bulls Jimmy Butler
(USA Today Sports)

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Good morning, frents!

So I'm one installment into Peter Jackson's "Get Back," which is awesome and basically "The Last Dance" but for The Beatles.  

For those who haven't seen it yet: Paul McCartney plays MJ,  John Lennon plays Scottie, George Harrison plays Toni Kukoc and Ringo plays the security guard with the perm. Come on, you know I'm right.

Sunday's results
Sharks 2, Hawks 0
DePaul 101, Eastern Michigan 63

Today's schedule
Hornets at Bulls (7, NBCSCH)
Notre Dame at Illinois (8, ESPN2)

Five questions for the Bulls at the quarter turn

(USA Today Sports)

The Bulls just hit the quarter pole of their season as they enter tonight's home game against the Charlotte Hornets.

It's been a pretty fun ride so far. After five years of wandering around the bottom half of the Eastern Conference, the Bulls are a fun and likable team capable of winning. They've become appointment viewing — an excellent tonic to help us get over the mess the Bears season has been.

But not everything is "seashells and balloons" as Chuck Swirsky likes to tweet. The Bulls are just 5-5 in their last 10 and are coming off a 1-3 week in which they were:

  • blown out by the Pacers at the United Center last Monday.
  • upset by the 1-16 Rockets on Thanksgiving Eve.
  • outkicked by the Heat in a measuring-stick game on Saturday.

The top six teams in the Eastern Conference are bunched within two games with the 13-8 Bulls trailing the Nets for the top spot by 1.5 games. But they're also just two games ahead of the Hawks and Celtics, who are tied for the eighth spot.

So are the Bulls closer to mixing it up in the top four in the East or battling tooth-and-nail to stay out of the play-in games next spring?

Here are five questions the Bulls must answer

Can Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso keep it up? The new arrivals have brought lockdown perimeter defense and it's been a big reason for the early success. But it's hard to do over 82 nights and not easy to replace if one of them gets hurt while doing it. Caruso missed the Pacers game with a bruised wrist and we saw the not-so-pretty result.

Will Nikola Vucevic return to form?  Zach LaVine has adjusted just fine to the arrival of DeMar DeRozan, but Vucevic — who just missed seven games in COVID protocol — can't say the same. An All-Star in Orlando last year, Vucevic has struggled to find a comfortable place in the rotation. He's averaging 13.4 points a game and still looking for confidence that it's OK to take shots away from the two ball-dominant guards. Figuring out this balance is Billy Donovan's most-pressing issue at the moment.

Is the Coby White Era over? The guard had a strong game in Orlando on Friday night and a superb cameo against the Knicks last Sunday.

Everything else in between has been .... not good.

Here's White's game log since his season debut in Los Angeles:

Depth is obviously a problem for this Bulls squad, but it's hard to see how Donovan can keep calling White's name if he can't find any consistency.

Can they keep winning on the road — or start finding more success at home? The Bulls are 7-4 away from the United Center (a mark that would be 8-3 if they hadn't biffed the Rockets game). Meanwhile, they're only 6-4 at home. December will bring an even split of home-away games — seven for each — and it'll be interesting to see how those numbers shake out.

What trade help can they get? It's no secret the Bulls need more help, though that doesn't make them any different from the rest of the Eastern Conference teams they're battling against. A veteran big man is at the top of the wish list but you wouldn't turn your nose up at anyone willing to come in and play the role that Donovan hands him. Arturas Karnisovas, Marc Eversley and Co. already spent a lot of draft and financial capital on giving us this group — they'll need to be really resourceful if they're going to complement it in a meaningful way.

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News and results

MLB: T-minus two days until lockout

The current CBA expires Wednesday at 11:59 pm, which means free agency is about to enter a deep freeze, barring a miracle agreement between now and then. RJ Anderson has more on how the lockout will impact the offseason.

Hawks: Strong effort against Sharks doesn't translate

Poor Marc Andre-Fleury. While the Hawks played a decent game on his 37th birthday, they didn't gift him a single goal in a 2-0 shutout by the Sharks at the UC last night. The Hawks managed 29 shots on the night to San Jose's 20, but not a single one came on either power-play chance. Hawks are 6-3 under Derek King.
Next:  The Hawks are off until Thursday when they'll start a three games in four day swing through Washington, Manhattan and Long Island

Illini: Bret Bielema's first year ends on high note

Illinois clubbed Northwestern 47-14 on Saturday to finish the season 5-7. That's a pretty good final mark given the Illini started 1-4 and especially compared to the first years of recent Illinois football coaches

  • Bret Bielema — 5-7 (2021)
  • Bill Cubit — 5-7 (2015)
  • Lovie Smith — 3-9 (2016)
  • Tim Beckman — 2-10 (2012)
  • Ron Zook — 2-9 (2005)
  • Ron Turner - 0-11 (1997)

Bielema took home wins over Nebraska, Penn State, Minnesota and their biggest instate rival. There's still a lot of work to do to become a real player in the Big Ten West, but Illini fans have to be happy with that start.

Notre Dame: Irish win, but fall in polls

ND took care of business at Stanford with a 45-14 blowout, but Michigan and Oklahoma State's upsets saw both teams leapfrog the Irish in the polls. (Two-loss Ohio State fell behind Notre Dame in both.) The Irish need a lot of help to sneak into the College Football playoff: They'll be rooting for Iowa over Michigan in the Big Ten title game, Georgia over Alabama in the SEC,  Houston over Cincinnati in the AAC and Baylor over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 championship.

1. Brett Taylor on Michael Lorenzen, the Reds' free-agent pitcher who wants to try his hand at becoming the next Shohei Ohtani. (The Cubs are among the interested teams.) Bleacher Nation

2. The Bulls have struggled to beat zone defenses lately. How can they overcome that as teams start to adapt more? Stephen Noh

3. Keep Troy Murray in your thoughts and prayers. He talked with Tracey Meyers about his continuing fight with cancer. NHL.com

4. Daniel Olinger takes stock of Northwestern's disaster of a season. Inside NU

5. Noted Chicago (and Badger) designer Virgil Abloh died Sunday at age 41. The imprint he leaves on Chicago includes the incredible design of the Boys and Girls Club in Garfield Park. Hypebeast

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