About a month ago, everyone said it was over. The Chicago Bulls had suffered a number of injuries and some corresponding blowout losses on national broadcasts. The website associated with the TV station airing those contests released a statistical model that suggested the Bulls were about to drop so far from their No. 1 perch in the Eastern Conference standings that they would have to claw their way through the play-in tournament muck to even see the light of the postseason.

These concerns were, surely, valid. The Bulls’ two best defenders, Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball, had been so good that they were changing broader perceptions about how much point-of-attack containment can do for a defense, and both were going to be out until sometime in March. Derrick Jones, Jr., the reinvented frontcourt supernova who was helping paper over the Bulls’ lack of size by blowing up the rim on both sides, was also gone. What the skeptics failed to consider, though, was that the Bulls could simply become a different team–one that could win in different ways.

Approximating a shape closer to the one many expected to see at the outset of the season, the Bulls have found a way through adversity largely by winning shootouts. Since their four-game losing streak, rich with injury and big stage indignity, the Bulls have gone 10-6 while hitting the 120-point mark in nine of those games. Their defense has been suspect, but they’ve overcome that. Key to this has been the adjustment of Nikola Vucevic. The two-time All-Star had been the weak link in the team’s scoring productivity, struggling to fit his usual efficiency marks into a reduced role; from last season to this one, Vucevic’s usage rate has dropped from 23rd in the league to 46th.

For context’s sake, that’s about the same decrease of time with the ball that Chris Bosh experienced when he went from the Toronto Raptors to the Miami Heat. Vucevic has figured it out, though: over his past 13 games he has scored 23.5 points per game on 59 percent shooting, while averaging 13.4 rebounds. Any offense featuring a third wheel that robust is going to be able to win an arms battle. Especially when it’s led by DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan, whose inclusion in conversations about the MVP race had been hyperbolic until his latest stretch, has recently earned undeniable traction in that discussion.

Currently on a scoring tear that requires the evocation of Wilt Chamberlain to make sense of, DeRozan is showing us some of the more unusual dominance of basketball’s modern era. Over the last six games, he is scoring 38.7 points on 61 percent shooting. Damn. Perhaps most importantly, he has carried bench units often featuring as many as four players who were not in the Bulls’ rotation, or plans, or even the NBA at the beginning of the season. Billy Donovan, who will be considered for a second Coach of The Year award, has been admirable in telling those glorified G-Leaguers what to do beside DeRozan’s steady hand of excellence, but in all likelihood it’s a lot of “get out of his way.” The man’s craft in the mid-range has sharpened to terrifying points, as he has immobilized every kind of coverage during this streak. It’s taken DeRozan’s unexpected new career peak, at the age of 32, to keep the Bulls near the top as the injury cloud has grown to include fellow All-Star guard Zach LaVine.

What’s next for the Ad Hoc Bulls is hard to say. Their recent ability to score teams off the floor has been one of the only predictable developments of the season; it has come alongside the much less foreseeable emergence of Ayo Dosunmu, a rookie guard who is as much a microcosm of his team’s narrative struggle as anyone on the roster. A highly decorated four-year college player, Dosunmu fell all the way to No. 38 in the NBA’s 2021 Draft, and has since shown himself to be, at minimum, a late-lottery talent. A quick protege of Caruso and Ball’s, Dosunmu is actively proving himself as one of the better on-ball defenders on the job today, while honing his feel for scoring opportunities–his, and those for his teammates–with impressive speed. The Bulls would not be here (0.5 games out of first place in the East, with the fifth best record in the sport, at time of writing) without him.

The same can be said for Coby White, Donsunmu’s backcourt partner. A third-year guard who is actually a month younger than Dosunmu, White has slotted into the Bulls offense perfectly in their recent run, with Vucevic often keeping his rearview passing mirror wide enough to find him open for deep threes. At 39 percent from beyond the arc on the season, White has been closer to 42 since shaking off his rust around Christmastime, and his snipering–along with Dosunmu’s insistence on feeding the big man–has been instrumental in opening the floor up enough to allow Vucevic to eat his greatest meals, near the rim.

The most difficult of the Bulls’ regular season trials are, in all likelihood, behind them as they head into the lengthy All-Star break. It is hard to imagine a team having worse injury luck, but maybe even more difficult to see one so newly assembled absorbing shock this well. As they get players back on their ramp into the postseason, the question facing the Bulls will be more about whether they can address the good kinds of problems, the kinds that teams hope to have; how, for example, will they balance White and Dosunumu’s minutes with Caruso and Ball’s? And if 20-year-old Patrick Williams returns and is able to follow the recently healed Jones Jr.'s blueprint for backing Vucevic up on defense, how exactly will Donovan manage his frontcourt rotation?

There is now more room for the Bulls' coach to fail. That's a consequence of his team succeeding, and finding so many different ways to do so. What if a health infusion leads to a damaging minutes reduction for Javonte Green, whose insane intangible hustle has made him one of the most underrated role players alive? Donovan and his roster have demonstrated an ability to fight through riddles like these, though, and consistently become a whole much stronger than the sum of its parts, regardless of the setbacks that have soiled them. Despite their breakdowns, the Bulls have stayed resilient enough to remain back.