1/4/22: New year, new questions for Bulls

What to watch for in 2022

DeMar DeRozan Bulls Magic MVP
(USA Today Sports)

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Good morning, friends!

And happy birthday to old friend Kris Bryant, who somehow turns 30 today. May he receive a nice and green birthday present whenever Rob Manfred stops settling scores with Ken Rosenthal and gets around to ending this lockout.

Monday's scores
Bulls 102, Magic 98

Today's schedule
Avs at Hawks (7:30, ESPN+, Hulu)
Illinois at Minnesota (6, FS1)

Five things Bulls fans should be looking for in 2022

(USA Today Sports)

It wasn't always pretty, but the Bulls won their eighth straight game on Monday night,  a 102-98 victory over the Magic at the United Center.

Back on Nov. 29, I wrote a newsletter asking where the Bulls were headed. There was some real cause for concern. The Bulls were 13-8, had gone 5-5 over their last 10 and had dropped three of their previous four — including a loss to the 1-16 Rockets.

Since that issue, the Bulls have gone 12-2 and opened up a two-game lead over Brooklyn and Milwaukee atop the Eastern Conference at 25-10.

All while battling a COVID outbreak that has sent almost anyone of consequence to the PS5s in their basements for at least a few days or more.

There's still a ways to go — we're not even at the season's halfway point with 47 games remaining — but this run has set the Bulls up for an exciting leadup to the playoffs.

Five things to keep an eye on with the Bulls in 2022:

Can they hang with the Warriors and Suns? One of the season's most disappointing games was getting run by Golden State at the start of November's long West Coast trip. The Bulls get a chance for revenge at the UC on Jan. 14, but Klay Thompson should be back with the Warriors by then. Phoenix comes to Chicago on Feb. 7 and hosts the Bulls on Mar. 18. Both are dates to circle on the calendar.

• How will they perform against Milwaukee?  It's strange the Bulls still haven't played the defending champs and one of their biggest obstacles in the East, but that changes with a trip up North on Jan. 21.  That will be a measuring stick game and might finally spark a real rivalry between the two sides. (The other three games: at Chicago on Mar. 4 and Apr. 5; at Milwaukee on Mar. 22).

• Can they navigate the challenges of rescheduled games? COVID postponed three games for the Bulls so far and the NBA announced the rescheduled dates on Monday. It's created three additional back-to-backs for the team, including tacked-on games just before they play the Nets on Jan. 12 and the Bucks on Mar. 4. Woof. You also have to assume there will be additional postponements and rescheduled games along the way sometime this month.

• Will any loads be managed? The Bulls haven't had much reason in recent seasons to selectively rest their players with an eye on lasting in the playoffs, but they might want to with the 32-year-old DeMar DeRozan and 31-year-old Nikola Vucevic. Which games make the most sense to skip if the Bulls feel they can afford the luxury? Without a lot of depth, the Bulls need to make sure they're healthy as possible once April rolls around. (Navigating this next stretch without Javonte Green won't be easy in itself. He's out 2-4 weeks with a groin injury.)

• Are we watching the final days of Coby White? One of the last holdovers from the GarPax era is coming off a great week, which is good news for his trade value. The Bulls don't have a lot of pieces they'd mind trading at the deadline, but White is the most expendable once Alex Caruso returns from injury.

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News and results

Bears: Matt Nagy wants Justin Fields to start if healthy

Told you this would be the only debate topic this week. We'll learn more about Fields' condition once the team practices on Wednesday ahead of the Week 18 finale with Minnesota.

Illinois hoops: Coming back from COVID to a tough week

The Illini just had 10 players in protocols, which caused tonight's game in Minnesota to be rescheduled from Sunday, Jan. 2. It's set up a tough week for Illinois, which hasn't played since Dec. 22 but will have to regain its legs to face Minnesota and Maryland over three days.

1. The owner of the Iowa Cubs shared the wealth with employees after selling the team. "A life-changing gesture," said one. Yahoo Sports

2. The Bulls are up to No. 3 in ESPN's NBA power rankings. ESPN

3. Scott Powers says it appears the Derek King honeymoon is over for the Blackhawks. The Athletic

4. Sizing up the Tigers, the Sox's newest problem in the AL Central. Southside Showdown

5. A Meals on Wheels worker retired from his South Side route after 40 years. His son is taking over. Block Club Chicago

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