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updated: 12/15/2013 8:18 PM

Can Bulls take advantage of mediocre East?

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  • Joakim Noah and the struggling Bulls hope to get some momentum going when they host the Magic today at the United Center.

      Joakim Noah and the struggling Bulls hope to get some momentum going when they host the Magic today at the United Center.
    Associated Press

  • Joakim Noah and the struggling Bulls hope to get some momentum going when they host the Magic today at the United Center.

      Joakim Noah and the struggling Bulls hope to get some momentum going when they host the Magic today at the United Center.
    Associated Press

  • Joakim Noah and the struggling Bulls hope to get some momentum going when they host the Magic today at the United Center.

      Joakim Noah and the struggling Bulls hope to get some momentum going when they host the Magic today at the United Center.
    Associated Press

 
 

One number worth following as the Bulls struggle to stop their slide is "games out of third place."

Thanks to rampant mediocrity in the NBA's Eastern Conference, the Bulls are within striking distance of two suitable goals.

They trail third-place Atlanta by only 2 games, even though the Bulls are just 3-9 since losing Derrick Rose to a knee injury.

And assuming Milwaukee will be tough to catch for worst record in the East, the Bulls re just 3 games ahead of the second-worst record in the East, a spot currently held by Philadelphia.

On Saturday, while the Bulls were getting thumped by Toronto at the United Center, Cleveland tried to pull out a victory in Miami with Jim Boylan leading the charge from the sideline. Boylan stepped in after Cavs head coach Mike Brown was ejected.

With Boylan in the news, it was tough not to think of comparisons to the 2007-08 season. That one started with high expectations for the Bulls, then slowly spiraled into complete misery. Boylan finished the year as interim coach after Scott Skiles was fired on Christmas Eve.

At this point, there's no reason to expect Tom Thibodeau to get a holiday pink slip, but the potential of this Bulls' season sinking beyond hope does seem realistic. Sure, they could also turn things around and make the playoffs when they get healthy. But what evidence do we have that this group can stay healthy?

Several players addressed the disappointing situation following Saturday's loss.

"It's just frustrating, because you've got to get through the bad to get to the positive," Taj Gibson said. "That's how it is in the NBA. It may go up, but as long as you keep working, the positives will come through."

The 2007-08 season finished with a happy ending for the Bulls, since they won the draft lottery and landed Rose. While it was going on, though, there were plenty of bad memories, from Joakim Noah's suspension for talking back to assistant coach Ron Adams, to Noah's argument with Ben Wallace after a loss in Orlando, to Wallace getting traded to Cleveland.

"Losing (stinks)," Joakim Noah said in the locker room after Saturday's defeat. "But it also shows people's true colors," Noah explained. "Who's willing to keep fighting through the adversity or who's going to say, 'You know what, I don't want any part of this and I'm just going to take bad shots and just not care at all about making winning plays and playing defense,' and things like that. So everybody has to stick together. Everybody has to jell and keep fighting together."

The Bulls have struggled even while the schedule has been friendly. But it won't stay friendly. After a home game against Orlando on Monday, the Bulls have back-to-back road games in Houston and Oklahoma City.

There's a chance the Bulls could field a full lineup (minus Rose) against the Magic. They got Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler back over the weekend, but still would need Kirk Hinrich to make a quick recovery after a sore back kept him sidelined on Saturday.

"We've had seasons here where everybody was healthy and at the end of the year, everybody got hurt," Deng said. "So hopefully this year, it's the other way around. We've just got to stay positive."

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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