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Bulls Erasing Doubters A Win At A Time

It may have been prudent to take the first three games of the season with a grain of salt. But the time for sneaky suspicion has now come and gone.
Nikola Vucevic Ayo Dosunmu Bulls

Photo: Michael Dwyer/AP

So, are we done with the second-guessing yet, or nah?

After burying themselves under a 19-point deficit, the Chicago Bulls sprung back to life to wrestle a 128-114 victory away from the Celtics in Boston (!) Monday.

It’s not that it was a gritty performance the likes of which past Bulls teams proved incapable of staging, or that it was their league-best sixth win of the season, or even that it arrived on the heels of them knocking off the Jazz two days earlier.

It’s all of that taken together that warrants the Bulls (6-1) being taken more seriously.

And frankly, it’d be foolish not to at this point.

Not after they just held Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum--the Association's sixth and seventh best scorers, respectively--to just two points and the rest of the Celtics to just nine points in the fourth quarter.

Not when they held Donovan Mitchell to just four fourth-quarter points Saturday and became the first--and, so far, only--team to keep his Jazz from hitting the century mark this season.

Granted, it may have been prudent to take the first three games of the season with a grain of salt. But the time for sneaky suspicion has now come and gone.

These aren’t the Pistons and Pelicans (sorry Tomas and Garrett) that have just been cut down to size. Both the Celtics and Jazz are supposed to finish with better records than the Bulls, according to the worldwide leader in sports.

For Chicago to have walked away with just one victory in the past two games alone would’ve raised an eyebrow. But for them to be heading to Philadelphia on the back of this two-game win streak is truly eye-opening.

Or at least should be.

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They’re scoring nearly a fifth of their points off the 17.1 turnovers they force a game, while sporting a defensive rating that’s 5.7 ticks better than the mark the Lakers topped the field with last season. In fact, the Bulls own both a top-seven offensive rating and defensive rating. Only the Heat (5-1) and Jazz (5-1) can say the same.

To say nothing of the fact that, to the extent that there’s only been one game so far this season in which Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan, and Zach LaVine have each scored 20-plus points, their offense isn’t even firing on all cylinders.

And yet, with Lonzo Ball acting as a calculated conduit, that group has still accumulated the 10th-most points among four-man lineups who’ve shared the court for a similar amount of time. (Coincidentally, Vucevic, LaVine, and Ball have outscored every trio in the Association except for two combinations the Knicks have rolled out.)

Even the bench, which figures to look even better whenever Coby White returns to action, is turning heads.

From Alex Caruso’s tireless screen navigation, on-court leadership, and knockdown three-point shooting (albeit on low volume), to Ayo Dosunmu’s fighting spirit, to Javonte Green, Tony Bradley, and Derrick Jones Jr. proving the frontcourt might not be in as bad a shape as it appeared when Patrick Williams went down for the season Thursday. Contributions to the franchise’s best start in a decade have been widespread.

Of course, it’s still early. The season is barely three weeks old.

LaVine, one half of the team’s MVP tandem, has to fight through a thumb injury the rest of the way as he jockeys for playoff seeding and to be recognized as the best player at his position.

Meanwhile, the Bulls won’t see anything but last spring’s postseason lineup until Thanksgiving.

Things could be worse, though. Much, much worse, actually. Just ask last season’s conference finalists.

The Bulls have been sleeping dogs for so long that it’s become easy to dismiss the notion that they might actually have the goods.

But tell me, what have you seen that’s convinced you they don’t?