Hold on, how did Chicago Bulls manage to win five in a row?
The Chicago Bulls' winning streak has caught everyone by surprise. They'll try to win their sixth in a row Monday against the Philadelphia 76ers at the United Center.
Here are some thoughts on why this happened and what it means for the rebuild, in case anyone needs to catch up:
Nikola Mirotic deserves credit for being undefeated since returning from a broken bone in his face. But the feeling here is the most important player in the Bulls' turnaround is actually point guard Kris Dunn.
Dunn's individual turnaround has been amazing. He went from possible bust to quality NBA point guard literally overnight. Just check Dunn's game log and the date of the shift is easy to spot. It was Nov. 28 against Phoenix.
In 10 games since then, Dunn has averaged 16.1 points, 7.1 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 2.3 turnovers. He has shot the ball well and scored in the clutch. The only thing he hasn't been good at is free throws (55.2 percent).
"His work ethic has been off the charts, really trying to get better in every area," coach Fred Hoiberg said Sunday. "You've got to give Kris a lot of credit for bouncing back in a big way (from a poor rookie season in Minnesota)."
Remember, the Bulls lost a pair of 1-point games and dropped a close one at Indiana just before the streak began. Mirotic definitely helped put the Bulls over the top in the victory column, but the turnaround began with Dunn.
The tank compromised:
Everyone involved with the Bulls feels the dilemma. This season was supposed to be about landing a high draft pick.
The winning streak pushed the Bulls north in the standings and another good week or two could easily place them with the league's eighth-worst record. And that's with Zach LaVine ready to return in a few weeks.
So what should the Bulls do? Make some trades, fake some injuries?
Well, the only thing they can do is let it play out for a while. The Bulls need to know what they've got before moving players around.
Will Mirotic finally live up to his potential, consistently? Can Bobby Portis keep knocking down outside shots? Is David Nwaba for real? The team certainly wants Dunn to keep thriving.
Even if the Bulls finish with the league's worst record, there's no guarantee they'll get a top-three pick. So tanking for DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley or Luka Doncic could be a futile exercise, anyway.
The Bulls could try to trade Robin Lopez, but that may not be as easy as it sounds, and it may not affect the bottom line very much if the Mirotic-Portis "inside-out" offense continues to succeed.
So the Bulls don't have much choice but to keep the lineup intact, at least until the trade deadline in February. If they keep winning, well, Nwaba has been better than plenty of lottery picks, so there's still good news. And they'll have cap room.
Variety of outcomes<:/h3>
The Bulls may come down to earth quickly. But after living through the remarkable turnaround of 2004-05, I've learned not to count out any team.
That was the season the Bulls started 0-9 and 4-15, then rallied to grab homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a 48-34 record.
One thing I've heard about those dreary days early that season is coach Scott Skiles stayed positive every day and kept the players believing in themselves.
On Sunday, Bulls guard Justin Holiday made a similar comment about Hoiberg.
"The coaching staff did a good job (during the 10-game losing streak)," Holiday said. "When they do speak to us about the games, they always have positivity involved. And I think that's a very big deal."
It's a good sign, though it's hard to imagine Hoiberg being anything other than even keel.
"Fred has been Fred. He doesn't even yell much," Holiday said. "You would think losing all those games the dude would come out and spaz after every game. But Fred has been about the same."
Hoiberg talked to various coaches during the summer about preparing to deal with a rebuilding season. He said Sunday that Skiles wasn't one of them, but he did speak to Philadelphia's Brett Brown, Monday's opposing coach.
There are some similarities between this team and the 2004-05 group, which had four rookies in the rotation. Both teams lost some close games before starting to win.
The 2004-05 squad proved it was for real with some quality road wins, similar to what the Bulls pulled off at Milwaukee on Friday.
So no one is saying the Bulls are going to work their way into playoff contention, but anything is possible.
Bulls game dayBulls vs. Philadelphia 76ers at the United Center, 7 p.m. Monday
Radio: WLS 890-AM
Outlook: The Process is starting to pay off in Philadelphia, where C Joel Embiid (24.1 points, 11 rebounds) is being hailed as one of the NBA's best big men and PG Ben Simmons (17.3 points, 7.8 assists, 8.9 rebounds) is a heavy favorite to win rookie of the year. A couple of familiar faces are supporting scorers. SG J.J. Redick is averaging 17.0 ppg, with Proviso West grad Robert Covington at 15.1 ppg. No. 1 draft pick Markelle Fultz is still out with a shoulder injury. Embiid is expected to sit out this game after scoring 34 points in a career-high 49 minutes during Friday's triple-overtime loss to Oklahoma City.
Next: Orlando Magic at the United Center, 7 p.m. Wednesday
-- Mike McGraw