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SportsMondayTuesday: The Bulls Are For Real

The tank is tanking. The idea that the Bulls would be terrible this year to get a great draft pick isn't working out. And thank goodness for that.

Oh, and I've been wrong about just about everything.

The Bulls are 14-7 since starting the season 3-20, and Monday's 119-111 victory over a Miami team that had roared into town with a seven-game win streak was yet more evidence of that. I've had plenty of company, but still . . .

And let me preface this by saying I believe that if I am qualified to write about any sport, I am qualified to opine on basketball. I've written more stories about the sport than any other. I love the game and I love that the city where I have lived my whole life is a basketball city first and foremost.

The small sample size of a couple weeks of improved play has ended. We are well into our second month of the Bulls playing as well or better than any other team in the Eastern Conference and some simple truths must now be acknowledged by the guy who was convinced the Bulls had blown everything in the past few seasons.

Fred Hoiberg can coach. And his system has not only produced successful basketball, it has also produced highly entertaining basketball.

The Bulls got value for Jimmy Butler. Point guard Kris Dunn is no longer the absolute bust he was during his previous, rookie campaign, and while he will still drive you crazy with late turnovers, he is obviously on a big ol' upward trajectory. Lauri Markkanen is even more so. And who doesn't think Zach LaVine is going to be a great player, at least on offense?

Whether the Bulls trade Niko Mirotic, a potentially successful long-term core is in place. A trade would obviously damage this team's chances to keep its .667 winning percentage going this season, but obviously that doesn't matter.

There is still so much work to be done, of course. This team is a ways away from being everything it can be and a ways away from being in contention to win just a playoff series, let alone a championship.

Everyone except Mirotic and Bobby Portis will have to add so much strength and savvy in the coming years. But the potential is obvious.

Against Miami, we saw again how NBA careers so often depend on opportunity. There are hundreds of players who, if they get the chance, can be serviceable NBA players.

Exhibit A on the Bulls is Justin Holiday. At the beginning of the season, he was viewed as - at best - a fringe player. And he still isn't likely to ever be an All-Star. But there he was Monday hitting 7-of-11 threes on his way to 25 points.

Holiday has had all sorts of playing time with the Bulls in part because LaVine had been out all season until a few games ago and in part because the team didn't have anyone else who was even close to being a starting two guard. And he has used the time to establish himself as a solid NBA starter.

The Bulls were fortunate to catch the Heat in the second game of a back-to-back, and still superstar Goran Dragic almost brought his team back down the stretch.

Here come the Warriors on Wednesday and that will certainly be a test. But it won't matter in the grand scheme. The Bulls have turned things around and while there will surely be rough times ahead, fans cannot deny that the potential already in place is exciting.


Comments welcome.

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