Things To Know: Bulls

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What You Probably Know
After sweeping the defending champion Miami Heat in the Conference Semifinals last season, the Chicago Bulls entered the 2007-08 season with increased expectations and hope of finally shredding their “Baby Bulls” image to become an elite team in the league. Prior to the season, the Bulls were predicted by many experts to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals after a successful draft in which they selected Florida standout Joakim Noah with the ninth pick.

Over a quarter of the way into the season and the Bulls are anything but elite, only recently recovering from a horrible start to bump their overall record to a still underachieving 8-13.

Adding fuel to the fire has been the widespread trade speculation that had some combination of Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas and other Bulls heading to the Lakers in exchange for Kobe Bryant. Although the trade talks never came to fruition, Chicago fans have refused to let up on their struggling Bulls, filling the United Center with chants of “KOBE” at various times throughout the season.

What You Might Not Know
Almost all of Chicago’s key contributors’ averages are down this season, headlined by guard Ben Gordon’s drop from 21 to 18 points and Kirk Hinrich’s decrease from 17 to 11 points. Luol Deng has been one of the few steadying forces on the Bulls, leading Chicago with 18 points and seven rebounds.

In the Bulls five December wins, the team is averaging almost 101 points a game compared to only 85 per contest in going 3-9 in November. Moreover, Chicago has been much better from the field this month, shooting 45% against a paltry 39% in the season’s opening month.

The numbers from some of the Bull’s biggest players in December also hint at a possible resurrection, with Deng averaging 21 points in the past eight games and Ben Gordon increasing his average to 19. In the past four games, Kirk Hinrich has returned to form, scoring 14 points while dishing out nine assists per game.

The Bulls –notorious for their solid defense — have also improved their game on that end of the floor, holding opponents to just under 96 points, good for ninth in the league.

What You Need to Know
Despite their recent outburst, the Bulls’ 92 points per game is still third to last in the NBA. However, the Bulls are great at rebounding their misses, pulling down the fourth most boards in the league with 44, including 14 offensive rebounds.

The Bulls have had trouble finding their stroke from beyond the arc, shooting only 32% from three point land this season even though they have several players like Nocioni, Gordon and Duhon who like to fire it from long range.

While they have won five of eight games this month, only one of those wins — versus the Pistons — was against a team with a winning record. Chicago will also be hungry to avenge the 28 point blowout they suffered at the hands of the Lakers earlier this season. Just in case that didn’t provide enough motivation, the Bulls will also be eager to quell the Kobe Bryant trade rumors once and for all by proving to their fans and critics that they can compete just fine without the All-Star guard.