After playing most of the NBA's best teams during a six-game homestand, the Bulls' level of competition will drop off a cliff.
On Wednesday, they'll visit Philadelphia. The Bulls lost to the 76ers in the third game of the season. But these days, the Sixers are riding a 21-game losing streak.
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Even if this game turns out to be a breather, the Bulls head back into the tall grass Friday at Indiana. That game will complete a stretch of playing five of the six best teams in the NBA in a span of 13 games. The only opponent missing is the L.A. Clippers.
The Bulls navigated the six-game homestand featuring mostly elite opponents with a 3-3 record. They beat Miami, Houston and Sacramento, while losing to Memphis, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
"I would have liked it better if we won a couple more games. But 3-3, we'll take it," Joakim Noah said after Monday's 97-85 loss to the Thunder. "We've just got to move forward. I wish we could have this game back. I wish we could play these guys again. But it is what it is."
A few days ago, coach Tom Thibodeau, always ready for a challenge, said he enjoyed the tough schedule.
"I liked it, too," Taj Gibson said. "Playing against some tough teams from the West, you've got to learn from it and apply it to the East. The East is all neck and neck, but come playoff time it's different. I feel like we're really experienced. I feel like we're getting only better."
Added Mike Dunleavy: "We were certainly challenged, no question about it. We would have liked to obviously have a better record. The competition level was high. Yeah, I think we learned some stuff, where we need to get to."
So what did the Bulls learn from this tough stretch?
Probably the biggest lesson is the Bulls have a small margin of error against the NBA's elite teams. They got off to a sluggish start against the Spurs, fell behind 38-14 in the first quarter and were never in the game.
Against Oklahoma City, the Bulls trailed by 1 early in the fourth quarter, then couldn't score for the next 6½ minutes. In the first game of the homestand, the Bulls led Memphis by 7 late in the third quarter but let the lead slip and struggled to score down the stretch.
Fourth-quarter points can be easy when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are executing pick-and-rolls for the Thunder. The Bulls don't have that luxury without Derrick Rose.
The Bulls' biggest star right now is Noah, who averaged 15.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.7 assists during the homestand. But they still need sharp cuts and good ball movement to get good looks on offense.
Even then, the shots don't always go in. The Bulls are getting better at 3-point shooting but still rank 25th in the league at 34.4 percent.
There's not much they can do. Jimmer Fredette is not walking through the door … oh, wait, he already did. We'll see if he gets a chance during these final 15 games of the regular season.