Chicago Bulls: Luol Deng And All That Jazz

Despite facing two Eastern Conference juggernauts and the surprisingly competitive Philadelphia 76ers in the first week of NBA action, the Chicago Bulls finally got an easy win when they played the winless Utah Jazz at home Friday. Although Derrick Rose had yet another mediocre performance, it was easy for Chicago to look improved on the offensive end against a Utah team that’s currently the Riggin’ for Wiggins favorite in the West.

Luol Deng‘s Jazzy Performance

Deng finished one assist shy of his first career triple-double, racking up 19 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and five steals in 38 minutes. He was an ultra efficient 7-for-9 from the field, a perfect 5-for-5 from the free throw line and although he committed five turnovers, finished at plus-30 for the game. Again, we’re talking about the Utah Jazz here, but it was an impressive performance from a guy who’s been pretty up-and-down so far this season.

The crowd at United Center seemed a little upset when Tom Thibodeau took Deng out with six minutes left in the game since he was one assist shy of the triple-double, but the matchup represented an opportunity for the Bulls to rest their starters a little bit and give the reserves some much-needed time. Deng was the only starter who played more than 28 minutes in the game since the result was never really in doubt in the second half.

A Not-So-Bullish Upcoming Stretch

The Jazz slaughter on Friday kicks off a six-game stretch that can only be described as “ideal” for a team still struggling to find its offensive rhythm and get Rose going. Following Utah, the Bulls’ next five opponents are the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers (at home), Charlotte Bobcats and Denver Nuggets. So basically, Rose vs. Kyrie Irving for the first time; the lowly Raptors; the NBA’s only remaining unbeaten team, which means the United Center will be absolutely rocking; an improved Bobcats squad at home; and a Denver Nuggets squad that may or may not already be tanking. At worst, that’s four very winnable games with one tough home matchup thrown in there.

The Bulls are currently 2-3 and although the season is still young, Chicago would like to string together a few wins this week with a pretty favorable schedule coming up. The Pacers have played like the best team in the NBA thus far, but I’m not convinced Indiana is as invincible as they’ve played so far. At some point, they’ll show a weakness of some kind. Since the Bulls were in the game against Indiana the last time they played until the last five minutes of the game, wouldn’t a home crowd advantage help them stay competitive throughout?

Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Suffice it to say that Derrick Rose’s return hasn’t been half as glorious as his TV spots so far. That’s to be expected, since I can’t stress enough how ridiculous it is to expect him to immediately be the same player after missing more than a year. Rose didn’t have to play his best game Friday because the Bulls still could have beaten Utah by 20 without him even stepping foot on the floor. So it’s no surprise that Rose was once again pretty “meh,” finishing with 12 points on 3-of-8 shooting, five assists and four turnovers in 27 minutes.

But here’s the good news about this upcoming stretch for the Bulls: it could be the perfect opportunity for Rose to start establishing an offensive rhythm. Why? Because unlike the tanking Jazz, every team Chicago plays this week is either contending for a playoff spot or at the very least, fancies itself a playoff contender. The Bobcats and Raptors both believe they can sneak in to one of the last two spots in the East, the Cavaliers actually have a chance of doing so and the Pacers are actually good. Other than Indiana, these teams are all good enough to provide a challenge, but not good enough that Rose can’t get his rhythm going. Although the Nuggets are much worse than advertised so far, with JaVale McGee out Rose should be able to get some practice attacking the basket. Deng might be able to give him a few pointers:

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