When the Chicago Bulls acquired veteran star DeMar DeRozan last summer and teamed him up with exciting phenom Zach LaVine and center Nikola Vucevic, it looked like several seasons of mediocrity were finally coming to an end for them.
When they put together a nine-game winning streak in late December and early January, their fans were probably starting to think the team could win the NBA championship this season.
Now, the Bulls have sagged to the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference, and with just six games left in the regular season, the conference is shaping up to be a battle.
They have shown some flaws, but are they true championship contenders, or just pretenders?
The Bulls Were Impressive Early In The Season
On January 7, when Chicago won its ninth game in a row, it held a 26-10 record, which put it atop the Eastern Conference.
It got there on the strength of its defense, which was one of the best in pro basketball.
The Bulls are a young team overall, and it’s rare for young teams to excel on the defensive end, but that’s what they were doing.
The Bulls have also been one of the NBA’s best 3-point shooting teams.
They currently rank third in 3-point shooting accuracy at 37 percent, even though they are last in 3-point attempts.
DeRozan has been having a career season at age 32, averaging 27.7 points on 50.3 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds and 5 assists per game.
He was being talked about as an MVP candidate when the Bulls were at or near the top of the standings in the East.
DeRozan still has plenty of hops, which he has used to provide plenty of highlight plays this season.
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) March 27, 2022
DUNK of the Night: Feb. 14
— NBA Canada (@NBACanada) February 15, 2022
He has also become Chicago’s go-to-guy in crunch time, giving his team some game-winning shots this season.
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) December 31, 2021
— Hoops ON Tap (@SONTHoops) January 2, 2022
But as well as their main guys have played, the team has proven it has some weaknesses.
Why Fans Should Be Concerned
Since starting 26-10, the Bulls have been just 18-22, which is a huge red flag for a team that is supposed to be ramping up towards a run at the world championship.
True championship contenders don’t flame out like that in the second half of the season.
Chicago’s defense, which seemed so strong in the first half of the campaign, now ranks just 20th in the NBA in terms of defensive rating.
Another problem is the team’s inability to beat the league’s best teams with any consistency.
It is winless thus far against the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors.
That’s a total of 14 games the Bulls have lost against all of the aforementioned squads.
That stat makes it very hard to believe that they can defeat any of them in a best-of-seven come playoff time.
The Bulls will have one more game each against the Heat, Bucks and Boston Celtics, which will give them a few more opportunities to prove they can beat the best teams head-to-head.
But until they do that often enough, they can only be considered pretenders and not true title contenders.