Why the Bulls' current schedule stretch is so crucial originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
Eight games in 15 days. No airplane rides. Seven of them at the United Center.
Save the one-game-at-a-time cliches for the teams that either have championship aspirations or haven't dug a considerable hole. The Chicago Bulls belong to neither category.
It's why this schedule stretch is so crucial to their season's fortunes. Navigate it well, and the ability to right the ship following a teetering start is possible. Continue to lurch forward in the on-again, off-again pattern that has defined the season to this point and the belief that personnel changes are coming will only intensify.
After opening with the best offensive performance of the season to take care of Lauri Markkanen and the Utah Jazz, the Bulls wasted a golden opportunity---and Alex Caruso's defensive wizardry---to begin the stretch with two straight victories, instead dropping Wednesday's game to the Phoenix Suns in overtime.
In another schedule rarity, the Bulls are enjoying three off days between that game and Sunday's home matchup with the Detroit Pistons. The same Pistons team that handled the Bulls easily in Detroit on October 28 despite Zach LaVine's 51 points.
The Bulls took Thursday off, practiced at the Advocate Center on Friday and are scheduled to do so again on Saturday. With Sunday's tip time one hour earlier than usual at 6 p.m., they are scheduled to hold a walkthrough rather than a shootaround.
That they can bus to Milwaukee following that game for one of only two sets of back-to-back games in the eight-game stretch is equally important. The Bulls last flew following their Nov. 4 road loss in Denver. They aren't scheduled to do so again until Nov. 21, the day before they open a four-game trip in Oklahoma City. The same Thunder team that easily handled the Bulls in the Oct. 25 season opener.
It's rare when a team doesn't have to fly for over two weeks during any regular season. Couple that with the fact the Bulls have consecutive home-and-home series with the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat---two teams with whom they ultimately could be competing for late playoff or play-in spots----and this stretch only grows in importance.
Wednesday's first of two matchups with the Magic also features Orlando finishing a back-to-back with travel; Orlando plays in Brooklyn the previous night. This is the type of schedule situation that good teams, or teams needing to climb out of early-season holes, take advantage of and do so decisively.
The Magic also are without Wendell Carter Jr. The former Bull, who loves facing his old team and has had posted numerous loud stat lines while doing so, has a fractured bone in his left hand.
As for the Heat, Miami is without Tyler Herro, who was off to a strong start with averages of 22.9 points per game on 41 percent 3-point shooting. He has a badly sprained ankle. That's another situation the Bulls need to exploit.
"Every game is tough, regardless of who you're playing," LaVine told reporters on Friday. "It can be the No. 1 seed in the East or the bottom seed. Every team can win. It's us worrying about what we can do instead of worrying about the future."
The Bulls opened this eight-game stretch with a 2-5 mark and currently sit 3-6, 12th in the Eastern Conference. Asking a team with a current net rating of minus-5.1 to run the table and navigate this stretch with a 7-1 mark is probably unrealistic. But realistically for any lasting impact, the Bulls probably need to go 6-2, maybe 5-3.
Especially because the Bulls, to this point, have enjoyed perfect health save for, obviously, Lonzo Ball. It's time.