Last night, atop a tapestry of overlapping mythologies, the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks treated the basketball world to a highly romantic slobberknocker. Both franchises are now finally on the right side of mediocrity, after a several-year stretch during which the two teams were the biggest losers in all of the NBA. One of them, the Knicks, now benefits from the relentlessness of Tom Thibodeau, for whom Chicago has a love that will never end. Two former Bull Thibodeau stalwarts in Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson also play for the Knicks. 

A third, Joakim Noah, was being officially celebrated at the United Center for the game. The cumulative effect, for Bulls fans, was that the game felt like a “welcome back to basketball” ceremony. The Knicks dealt the Bulls their first loss of the season, but not without Chicago displaying encouraging signs of grit and moxie, as they came back from down double digits to make the game matter up until its final possession.

It was the kind of contest that a team that doesn’t yet know what it’s doing—at least not fully—loses to a team that does. That’s the dynamic of the Bulls and the Knicks right now, with the former on a microwave mission to contention with most of their rotation players being new arrivals, while the latter is returning most of their emergent squad from last year’s 41-31 campaign. Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier have slotted in nicely with a defensive-minded program, providing an extra offensive ballast that, relative to what we’ve come to expect from Thibodeau teams, feels positively Durant-ian.

Otherwise, it’s the same imposing roster it was last year. Big dudes who execute perfectly, and err on the surplus side of physicality to be sure. The Bulls, who were undefeated coming into the game, looked like they needed that kind of challenge, and until something changes, it’s the type that could continue to undo them—Chicago plays an undersized, uptempo, blitzing style that doesn’t exactly keep them in prime position for the rebounding battle, which they’ve lost more often than they’ve won, and often badly.

But by creating a balancing edge in the turnover and free throw categories (which they did substantially in their one-point loss to the Knicks) the Bulls are able to make a guard-heavy rotation work, for now. Like New York did last year, though, they will likely need to bring in some mid-season form of extra help sooner rather than later, to shore up their deficits (relevance isn’t restored in one offseason; bringing it all the way back will be an ongoing effort). If they don’t, they will remain in positions uncomfortable in the way that Lonzo Ball trying to guard Julius Randle—who is roughly 25 percent larger—is uncomfortable.

It’s possible that future Bulls-Knicks games this season will provide some of the greatest thrills of the year for their respective fanbases. Neither roster is built to truly contend in the playoffs, not in an Eastern Conference with these versions of the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, and Atlanta Hawks. And many national analysts have negged the efforts of both teams to bring themselves back up to a level where losing four times out of seven to those supremely talented teams is considered a kind of honor. If you’re lucky, you may even make Goliath question his dignity a few times along the way to vanquishing you. 

I think I speak for both fanbases, however, when I say that this is actually a pretty sweet place to be. A spot where dubious developmental and project players are not the basis for an even more fragile sense of hope, because there are people on hand with the proven ability to deliver, led by coaches and front offices who demonstrate regularly that they are professional adults. Give us that, and our hearts can go crazy connecting the middling glories of today with the middling (and sometimes much more than that) glories of the past.