An astonishing Bulls season has hit the stretch run.
Saturday's takeover of the Bradley Center, along with 30 points and 17 rebounds from Derrick Rose against Milwaukee, was just the latest highlight.
By going 7-3 in the last 10 games, the Bulls can reach 60 wins. Before the season, the over/under betting line on Bulls victories was in the 45-47 range.
By taking care of business in five winnable games coming up, they should have a chance to cement the top seed in the Eastern Conference by beating Boston on April 7 at the United Center.
When the season began, who would have thought beating out the Lakers for home-court advantage in the Finals would be a legitimate concern?
With a few weeks left before the playoffs, this is a good time to look back on how the Bulls found such surprising success, in order of importance:
The 1.7 percent solution:
The Bulls' unlikely victory in the 2008 draft lottery may go down as one of the most fortunate moments in NBA history. Not only did they beat the odds, the timing was perfect. In other years, the lottery prize could have been Greg Oden or Andrea Bargnani.
The funny thing is, any misstep by the Bulls leading up to the disappointing 2007-08 season turned into the best thing that could have possibly happened. Choosing Tyrus Thomas over LaMarcus Aldridge, signing Ben Wallace, the early exit of coach Scott Skiles -- it all paved the way for the addition of Rose.
Remember, the team with the best chance of landing the top pick in '08 was the Miami Heat. What a difference a few ping-pong balls can make.
Thibs wins waiting game:
Maybe coach Tom Thibodeau needed all three of those seasons as an assistant in Boston to become the head coach he is today. Maybe he was ready 10 years ago.
We'll never know for sure, but Thibodeau was a hot name in the summer of 2008 when he helped Doc Rivers lead the Celtics to a championship. Back then, NBA teams had to wait until Boston's playoff run was over before interviewing Thibodeau.
The Bulls chose not to wait and hired Vinny Del Negro. Amazingly, Thibodeau was ignored a year later, then finally drew some interest last summer. In the meantime, he'd changed his contract to allow contact with other teams before the playoffs ended.
While the Bulls had plenty to offer, they were still fortunate Thibodeau turned down New Jersey and New Orleans, agreeing to terms with the Bulls before the NBA Finals began.
This doesn't quite rank in Sam Bowie territory, but the Bulls caught a huge break in the 2007 draft when center Joakim Noah fell to the No. 9 pick.
Had he left Florida a year earlier, he might have a No. 1 or 2 pick. But he waited, won another NCAA title and still his stock dropped. The three players chosen before Noah in the draft were Yi Jianlian, Corey Brewer and Brandan Wright.
Making trades pay:
A couple of minor trades has paid major dividends. When the Bulls sent Thabo Sefolosha to Oklahoma City in 2009, it seemed like a salary dump. But they used the low first-round pick acquired from the Thunder on Taj Gibson.
On draft night in '08, the Bulls managed to use second-round pick Sonny Weems to acquire the rights to Omer Asik. Gibson and Asik ended up providing some sorely-needed frontcourt depth.
These deals could be payoffs from an important change in the front office. The rise of general manager Gar Forman into a decision-making role was significant.
Shooting guard shuffle:
The jury is out on this one, but it will be interesting to see how the lack of a standout shooting guard works for the Bulls in the playoffs. This all started when the Bulls couldn't re-sign Ben Gordon and let him walk away as a free agent.
Atlanta's Joe Johnson was the natural choice last summer, and the Bulls had the cap space to sign him as a free agent. But when the Hawks offered a full max deal, Johnson couldn't say no. The Bulls then sent an offer sheet to restricted free agent J.J. Redick, which Orlando matched.
So Ronnie Brewer could be considered their fourth choice for this spot. Thanks to his defensive energy, though, Brewer ranks high on the Bulls' list of indispensable players.
Without Gordon or Johnson, let alone LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the Bulls spread their money around and created their impressive depth with C.J. Watson, Keith Bogans, Kurt Thomas and Asik.
Did it all work out for the best, this perfect storm of role players to support Rose?
The Bulls are about to find out.
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