Examining The 12-13 Bulls' Schedule
With the Chicago Bulls releasing their 12-13 regular-season schedule on Thursday, here is a closer look at their 82-game slate.
Ten games to keep an eye on:
Oct. 31 vs. Sacramento Kings: After opening the season on the road in each of the past three seasons, the Bulls begin the season at home against a Kings team that has gone 88-224 over the past four years. As Kirk Hinrich told reporters on Tuesday, Chicago will face more questions next season than it has in recent years. Derrick Rose will miss a significant portion of the campaign while Luol Deng may very well have wrist surgery after the Olympics. Over the past two years, the Bulls have become so accustom to partaking in highly-anticipated openers, but this one could give them exactly the type of low-key, laid-back start they’re seeking.
Nov. 6 vs. Orlando Magic: Given all the rumors that have been constantly swirling around Dwight Howard, will the league’s best center remain on the Magic roster when this game rolls around? RealGM first reported on Wednesday that Howard reiterated his desire to leave the Magic in a meeting with team officials. Orlando seemingly hasn’t shown much urgency to part ways with Howard and both parties could remain stuck together to begin next season. Nevertheless, the Bulls won’t be Howard’s landing spot, but this early-season game will have relentless intrigue if Howard is still with the Magic.
Nov. 8 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder: Last season’s compressed schedule prevented the Thunder from playing on the Bulls’ homecourt, but the reigning Western Conference champions will make their visit early on in 12-13. Both teams appear to mirror each other – especially when Rose is healthy – with exuberant youth, waves of athleticism and defensive focus. Still, the Bulls got blown out without Rose in Oklahoma City a season ago, and, minus him and possibly Deng, they don’t have the weapons to match Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
Dec. 1 vs. Philadelphia 76ers: Both squads faced off in a competitive first round matchup that the Sixers won in six games, and as the series wore on, Doug Collins acknowledged his team caught a break when Rose tore his ACL in Game 1. Up and down the Bulls’ roster, however, players still believe the series slipped away and was theirs for the taking.
Dec. 25 vs. Houston Rockets: For the past year, general manager Gar Forman repeatedly stated the Bulls would re-sign Omer Asik at all costs, even if it meant agreeing to a bloated offer sheet. But they still had to be blindsided when Asik signed a backloaded three-year, $25 million deal with the Rockets that Chicago ultimately declined to match. In every way, Asik was the Bulls’ defensive anchor off the bench and the belief within the organization had been that his ceiling remains high. Now, the Turkish big man will get an opportunity to start and play big minutes with Houston, but he developed a close bond with several Bulls players and leaving had to be difficult. And even so, it’s only fitting that Asik returns to his home of the past two seasons on Christmas Day, bringing Jeremy Lin alongside.
Jan. 4 at Miami Heat: This will mark the first game between both teams. After the Bulls and Heat met in the Eastern Conference finals in 2011, many across the league felt it was the start of a budding rivalry. Clearly, Rose’s injury has set that back for now. Yet, both teams don’t have meshing personalities and Bulls players – namely Joakim Noah – have made known the distaste for their rival. In last season’s final game between the two clubs, the Heat bullied the Bulls, punched them in the mouth and ran away on the scoreboard. Days after the contest, the Bulls preached the lesson they learned after the Heat “hit us and beat us up,” as Mike James told me.
Jan. 21 vs. Los Angeles Lakers: The Bulls will get their first peek at the Lakers’ revamped roster on this night, albeit not on the national stage. While Chicago has stood pat this offseason, Los Angeles added Steve Nash and re-signed Jordan Hill, whose role as the energetic big man off the bench became vital to the Lakers’ success in the second half and playoffs. Still, the game will lack the treat provided by the usual head-to-head between Kobe Bryant and Rose.
Feb. 13 at Boston Celtics: As far as under-the-radar rivalries go, contests pairing the Bulls and Celtics almost always fit the bill – from the connections between Tom Thibodeau and Doc Rivers, and to Noah’s verbal sparring toward Kevin Garnett. Usually, Rose and Rajon Rondo put on a brilliant back-and-forth battle, too. This mid-February game will be the final one between both teams, and it promises to have playoff seeding implications. The Bulls have been the No. 1 seed in the East over the past two seasons but will assuredly take a step back in 12-13. Will they fall behind the Celtics?
March 10 at Lakers: All along, March has been the most likely target for Rose’s return. When Rose underwent successful surgery in mid-May, the Bulls said he will be sidelined for eight to 12 months. A mid-March return would mean that he would have sat out 10 months, and an afternoon game at the Staples Center on national television could provide Rose the platform to make his return. Clearly, the Bulls won’t rush him, but he is a competitor and essentially nothing can tell him otherwise – when working to come back from injury, he has often said it is in his hands – if he feels it’s within reach to return.
April 17 vs. Washington Wizards: As the final game of the season, if Rose has not made his comeback to this point, it is safe to believe he will also sit out the postseason. Assuming the Bulls reach the playoffs, under no circumstances would the Bulls throw Rose into the postseason fire without the 2010-11 league MVP having an extended return under his belt – nor would the organization allow him to play just one contest, the season finale. But Bulls management has repeatedly stated it believes Rose will return sometime next year. If that comes to fruition, a battle between Rose and John Wall – two of the most electrifying point guards in the league, both spending their college careers under coach John Calipari – would be a sensational end. Wall has said over the past few seasons that he looks up to Rose, and it is clear that Wall is flowing with talent but has admitted he must focus his energy on improving his jump shot and leadership. Those are traits Rose has seamlessly mastered, but for his own expectations this game will be critical.
Three key schedule facts:
1. Over the past decade, the Bulls’ schedules have contained a road-heavy start and then a second half packed with home games. However, six of the Bulls’ first seven contests next season are at home – including a season-high five-game homestand – while their second half is filled with difficult road tests, featuring 13 out of 19 away games between Feb. 1 and March 15.
2. The Bulls’ annual “Circus Trip” is fairly light compared to past seasons: A season-high five-game road trip that includes tilts against the Phoenix Suns on Nov. 14, Los Angeles Clippers Nov. 17, Portland Trail Blazers Nov. 18, Rockets Nov. 21 and Milwaukee Bucks Nov. 24.
3. Even though Rose will miss most of the season, the Bulls will be on national television 26 times – just three less than how many appearances they were supposed to make before last season’s 82-game schedule was eliminated due to the lockout.
Returnees: Aside from Asik, the Bulls will welcome back a few more contributors who all had essential roles on a team that racked up the most wins in the league over the last two seasons. Here is a closer look at the four players and when they will return to Chicago for the first time since changing teams:
Ronnie Brewer, New York Knicks - Dec. 8
C.J. Watson, Brooklyn Nets - Dec. 15
Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks - Jan. 14
John Lucas III, Toronto Raptors - April 9
The bottom line: It is interesting that the league has left the majority of Chicago’s national TV games for the second half, when Rose is expected to return. On paper, the schedule handed to the Bulls seems congenial – in fact, it is one of the easiest based on last season’s win-loss records, according to the Elias Sports Bureau – and an outcome the franchise could absolutely use in a season that many observers are “sleeping on us,” as Noah told multiple media outlets Thursday.