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Kobe’s comeback

Perhaps one of the most durable players in the history of the NBA made his long-awaited (sorry, that’s a ridiculous thing to say when a guy has missed eight months with a ruptured achilles tendon) comeback last weekend against the Toronto Raptors, the team he famously put 81 points on 22/1/2006:

Last Sunday he was a bit more subdued, playing 28 minutes and going 2-9 for 9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in a loss.  He had 20 against Phoenix two nights later, also in a loss, then 21 on Saturday in a win over Charlotte.  What was significant about the Charlotte performance was that it came on the second half of a back-to-back.  Last night, his fifth game back, he had 8 points but went  4-14 from the field.

He’s 40% from the field so far, but only 13.3% from three.  He is also averaging 6.8 assists so far in his comeback which is quite a significant stat given the perception from most (myself included) that this season was going to be about him pushing towards the NBA’s all-time points record.  Of course 4-14 rather supports that theory, doesn’t it?

Here is a video of his performance against Phoenix, including an impressive dunk for a guy of 35 with 1459 career games under his belt:

After the Charlotte win, Bryant commented that the goal of winning a championship hadn’t changed.  The Lakers are 11-13 and five games back in the Pacific Division.  Teams in the west have started the season strongly, notably the 21-4 Portland Trailblazers and the  19-5 San Antonio Spurs.  Even the “tanking” Phoenix Suns are 14-9 and have been playing very well.

It will be very tricky for the Lakers to even make the playoffs this season, even though we can probably quite safely assume that several of the teams currently above the Lakers in the standings will fall away as the season progresses.  The Lakers still have a lot of quality in their squad, but right up to the point that Kobe signed his massive new contract they looked prepared to see out this season and rebuild over the offseason.

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Kobe coming back ensures that the Lakers will at least be interesting and it is frankly incredible to see a guy of his age and with as many miles on the clock as he has performing at what one cannot argue is anything but an elite level.  A few more 4-14’s however, and the experiment might start to look a little foolish.

Pacers top Heat with 3Q burst

The first meeting between the much vaunted Indiana Pacers and the champion Miami Heat took place last night in Indianapolis.

The Pacers brought a perfect 9-0 home record into the matchup, whereas the Heat were 7-3 on the road.  They were also missing Michael Beasley, the formerly (?) troubled star who has started to show signs of becoming the player Pat Riley thought he was when he was drafted behind Derrick Rose (ahead of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez and Roy Hibbert) in the 2008 NBA Draft.

LeBron finished 6-16 for 17 points and a monster 14 rebounds.  Bosh had 12 points and – ahem – three rebounds.  Wade also had 17 and the Heat got solid play off the bench from Birdman Chris Andersen.

The Pacers, meanwhile, were led by Hibbert’s 24, although he only had five rebounds, reflective perhaps of the Heat’s strategy to try and pull him away from the basket defensively.  Paul George and David West both had 17 and the increasingly impressive (how long ago does his dumb “choke” thing seem now?) Lance Stephenson who had a +/- of +13, the best of any player on either side.

The Heat started the game very quickly but were pegged back by Indiana after half time, the point when the Pacers are most dominant this season.

What does this game tell us about these two teams?  Well, maybe a lot, but maybe nothing.  The Pacers are clearly in full-on blitz mode for this season and are making a run at the title.  The signings of Luis Scola and Chris Copeland suggested as much and we shouldn’t forget that Danny Grainger is closing in on a return.  It is important, however, to remember that this was, for everything else, a regular season game.  The Heat didn’t play Udonis Haslem, who will clearly play more of a role in other major games this season.  They also didn’t have Greg Oden, who was signed with a view to countering the Hibbert problem.  As I’ve written before on these pages, if Oden can even slightly impede Hibbert, then he’ll have done more than any other Heat player to put them in a winning position.

The win left the Pacers 19-3 for the season.  The Heat “slip” to 16-6.  In the hopeless Eastern conference, where the third best team is Atlanta who currently sit 11-11 on .500, it’s still fairly safe to assume that the Heat will be fine.  They clearly have both eyes firmly on the prize – the title – and will just do what they have to to get through the regular season.  Dwyane Wade has been sitting out the second half of back-to-back games, a move that speaks to this long-game.  When the Bulls won their two three-peat titles (1993 and 1998), they ended up 57-25 and 62-20.  The latter would only be a four game drop for the Heat from last season, whereas it was a seven game drop for the Bulls (or ten if you look at their record breaking 1995-1996 season), but the East is considerably weaker with so many teams either “tanking” ahead of the strong upcoming NBA draft, or just utterly disastrous (looking at you, Brooklyn Nets!).  The Heat will be fine.

If all goes to plan and these two teams meet up in the Eastern Conference finals next year, we are in for a treat.

Big Ten-ACC Challenge Highlighted by UNC’s Upset Over Michigan State

Ask a fan of American men’s college basketball who the best conference in the land is, and you’re likely to hear one of two answers: the Big Ten (consisting of schools mostly in the Midwest) or the Atlantic Coast Conference (consisting of schools mostly along the East Coast).

The two conferences have been doing battle for the past fifteen seasons by matching up one school from each conference early on in the season. The ACC holds a significant advantage over the years, and in addition to their regular powerhouses of Duke and North Carolina, the conference has recently picked up Big East defectors Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Notre Dame. Last year’s national champion, Louisville, is on its way.

Still, this year the two conferences tied at six wins apiece. This year’s highlight was unranked North Carolina’s upset over top-ranked Michigan State in Chapel Hill, 79-65. The match-up brought together arguably two of the best  college basketball coaches in Tom Izzo and Roy Williams. Williams’ big win calls into question just how good this UNC team is, as they also have inexplicable losses against Belmont and the University of Alabama-Birmingham to date. Michigan State hadn’t lost before falling to the Tar Heels.

It didn’t matter. The two teams battled to a 32-32 halftime tie, but from there it was all the home team. Kennedy Meeks came off the bench to lead a very balanced attack with 15 points and seven rebounds.

Other big match-ups included Michigan at Duke, Indiana at Syracuse, and Notre Dame at Iowa. The ACC’s Duke and Syracuse won their games, while the Big Ten’s Iowa also won.

BT Sport Agree TV Deal with NBA!

BT SPORT AND NBA ANNOUNCE EXCLUSIVE MULTIYEAR TELEVISION PARTNERSHIP TO BRING THE WORLD’S BEST BASKETBALL ACTION TO FANS IN THE UK AND IRELAND

– Comprehensive Coverage Includes Exclusively Live TV Broadcast of up to Seven Games per Week,

Plus Highlights, Magazine Shows and Free Streamed Games on BT Sport.com –

After months of speculation and angst UK and Ireland basketball fans can finally sigh with relief as BT Sport announce that the have signed a TV deal with the NBA.

The multiyear agreement between BT Sport and the world’s premier men’s professional basketball league tips off on Sunday, Dec. 1, as the Eastern Conference- leading Indiana Pacers featuring Paul George and Roy Hibbert take on West Coast rivals the LA Clippers featuring Chris Paul and Blake Griffin at 8.30p.m UK time on BT Sport 2. Coverage will include weekly games on Sundays in primetime. Fans will also be able to access selected games streamed live and for free on the BT Sport website and BT Sport App (available on iOS, Google Play) along with either nba.com and NBA LEAGUE PASS International. Full schedule details of games will be confirmed in due course.

NBA fans will be delighted to be able to see Blake Griffin on their TV screens this season. (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBA fans will be delighted to be able to see Blake Griffin on their TV screens this season. (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

The new agreement will see up to 200 games throughout the season, appearing across BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2 and ESPN. There will be up to seven live games per week throughout the regular season and the first and second rounds of the Playoffs, as well as every game of the Conference Finals, culminating in the NBA Finals in June.

As part of the partnership, fans will be able to watch GB’s Luol Deng and the Chicago Bulls take on the Brooklyn Nets as one of five scheduled games on BT Sport on Christmas Day, making BT Sport one of the few places to go for live televised sport on Christmas Day. The Nets will face off against the Atlanta Hawks at The O2 in London on January 16, as part of NBA Global Games 2014. The game – which sold out in record time- will be live on BT Sport.

Simon Green, head of BT Sport, said: “BT Sport will be the new home of the NBA in the UK and Ireland. The NBA is simply the best basketball in the world; it is fast moving, high scoring and includes some the world’s most recognisable global sporting icons. Existing NBA fans will love our coverage, and we look forward to converting many more.”

One of the highlights of BT Sport’s coverage will be NBA All-Star which takes place every year in February at the midway point of the NBA season. A global celebration of basketball, NBA All-Star consists of a variety of basketball events and competitions, including the NBA Slam Dunk Contest and Three-Point Contest, culminating in the NBA All-Star Game. The All-Star Game pits the league’s star players from the Eastern Conference against their counterparts from the Western Conference, with the starting line-up for each team selected by fans from around the globe. Fans in the UK can vote for their favorite players for NBA All-Star 2014 by visiting nba.com/asb.

“This is a very exciting step for the NBA and basketball fans in the UK and Ireland,” said Dan Markham, NBA Vice President, Media Distribution & Emerging Markets. “With BT Sports’ first rate presentation and formidable portfolio of premium sports content, fans can now look forward to more NBA action than ever before in the UK and Ireland, including selected free streamed games. Through its innovative multi-platform offering of live NBA games, highlights, magazine shows and unique behind-the-scenes programming, BT Sport is the ideal partner to serve as the official broadcaster of the NBA.”

Also included in the partnership will be several magazine shows: NBA Action combines weekly highlights and news; NBA Inside Stuff will provide fans with a unique insight into the lives of NBA stars both on and off the court; NBA Tonight, provides an overview of the NBA through interviews and analysis and NBA Countdown, the live game build up show before selected games.

How Kobe Bryant (or Jim Buss) killed the Lakers

Two years and $48.5 million.  Twenty three and a half million dollars next season; twenty five million dollars next season.  Not to mention thirty million dollars this season.  This is the amount of money that Kobe Bryant is being paid to play basketball between the ages of 35 and 37.

And it is crazy.  Maybe the dumbest move in recent sports-contract history.  Was it dumber than paying Gilbert Arenas ($111m/ 6 years in 2008) or Rashard Lewis ($118m / 6 years)?  Perhaps not, but neither Arenas or Lewis was 35 years old coming off a ruptured achilles tendon and on a storied franchise that seemed to be all set to make another run at the NBA title.

Signing away the Lakers future?

The NBA’s salary cap for the 2013-2014 season is set at $58,697,000, or two 2013 Kobe Bryant’s…give or take a million and a bit dollars.  The Lakers more or less clear the decks this off season – only Steve Nash and Robert Sacre were contracted beyond this season.  Everyone assumed that with Bryant’s serious injury costing him a good portion of the season the Lakers would simply play the season out, let Kobe come back and gun his way towards the NBA’s all-time scoring record and pick up a stud in the upcoming NBA draft.  Then they would have practically their entire salary cap free to dangle at the free agency market – and perhaps lure Kobe back for a run at his sixth title.

But not any more.

Some have had the audacity to claim that his new contract allowed the Lakers to sign another “max level” player.  Yeah, but you have to have another 10 players on the roster as well.  LeBron James could ask for $20m next season; Carmelo Anthony $22.5m (105% of their current contracts).  LeBron does bring you the possibility of contending.  Carmelo does not.  That possibility also hinges on getting “max level” performances out of a then-36 year old 18 year veteran with a dodgy achilles (admittedly alongside an incredible pain thresh-hold).

Any NBA expert worth his salt – Bill Simmons, Colin Cowherd, Chris Broussard’s “sources” – has noted that no other team was going to pay Kobe any more than about $12 million.  Allowing for low-balling, was anyone going to pay $15 million to Kobe next season?  Maybe.  Was Kobe going to go to “anyone” to make an extra $3 million?  He’s earning ten times that this season.  Who would this “anyone” be anyway?  Memphis?  Is Kobe really going to go to Memphis to play out his career for $15 million?  Not a chance.

Now, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that Kobe was offered this deal.  He signed it, but it was offered to him.  This tells us that the Los Angeles Lakers are an organisation totally bereft of ideas.  Smart teams do not overpay for over-the-hill talent.  Just look at Major League Baseball – St Louis got better AFTER they let Albert Pujols go to the LA Angels.  The Angels got worse.  There is no space for sentiment in the business-like sports world.  The Lakers saw their current predicament and panicked.

The Clippers are better than them.  The Dodgers are more interesting – even Magic Johnson thinks so, he owns the team.  Steve Nash is falling apart.  Pau Gasol doesn’t feel loved and is looking for his last big contract.  He’s not going to get it in LA now.

Kobe has often commented that he doesn’t want to be one of those players who fades out of the game into irrelevancy.  His likely solution is to score the ball, which requires more shots.  The current top 4 all-time scorers in NBA history:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 38,387

Karl Malone – 36,928

Michael Jordan – 32,292

Kobe Bryant – 31,617

So he’s 600-ish points short of MJ.  He’ll overtake Jordan this season, all being well.  The next 4,000 to overtake Malone might be trickier, but on a Lakers team with no other options, he should manage it.  Then it’s just 1500 points to the holy grail of Kareem.

I hope he gets there.  It will be the only exciting thing that LA basketball fans will get to see between now and 2016.  Unless they start buying tickets for Clippers games…

Latest D-Rose Knee Injury Raises Questions

When Chicago Bulls’ star player Derrick Rose injured his right knee a couple days ago, I grimaced. But then I saw that it was a meniscus tear, and I thought, no big deal. He’ll be back on the court in a month. Until ESPN dropped this bombshell: Rose is done for the year, again.

Now anyone who knows me knows I bring a lot of baggage to knee injuries, surgeries, and rehabs. So let’s just get that history out of the way. When I was a young high-school basketball player, I tore my left ACL, while also partially tearing my MCL, my LCL, and the meniscus on the lateral side of my knee. The ACL tear is the injury Rose suffered two seasons ago in the playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers. I had the surgery about a month after my injury and played a baseball season three months after the injury. Then, I played American football in the fall, and a half of a basketball season before tearing more of my meniscus. So I had another surgery and was playing again in a month. Then, I played a season of baseball, a season of soccer, and a season of basketball before injuring the meniscus again in the same knee. Another surgery, played again in a month. Then three straight injury-free seasons of soccer, basketball, and baseball. Then, I played college baseball for about a year-and-a-half before injuring the meniscus again, having a final surgery, and calling it quits on my athletic career.

So at the very least, I do know something about knee injuries and it invokes a little personal passion in me. Some would say my model of consecutive injuries isn’t exactly a model to follow, and that’s a valid point, but it should also be pointed out that I never reinjured my knee immediately after returning. So it’s hard to make the argument that they occurred because I “went back to soon.” It should also be pointed out that the route Rose went with surgery is a little different (and newer) than the route I chose. He is getting his meniscus repaired, whereas I just had mine sort of shaved. In other words, I have less meniscus in my knee now because of it. Rose’s route may pay off in the long-term. Think Russell Westbrook in terms of a previous model to consider. I also realize that Rose’s knee is worth a lot more than mine, but I still think this sequence of events raises several questions, and most of them aren’t good. Keep in mind, too, that even though I was skeptical about his decision not to play in the playoffs last year, I defended him when others criticized him. Here are my concerns this time around:

1. Is Rose simply content earning a high salary without producing all that much on the floor? He chose to sit out longer than necessary last year, and he’s doing it again this year. Can you imagine, for example, Michael Jordan making those same decisions? I think we all know the answer to that question. Rose’s youth cannot be used as an excuse forever. It’s not like he’s going to play into his mid-forties because he sat out two years during his twenties. Our bodies limit us even when we’re careful.

2. Are the Bulls hiding something about the injury? Is there something about it that is more serious than is being advertised?

3. Is this simply a symptom of this generation of athletes? Generation Coddle, we might call them? Maybe it’s not even Rose’s fault, really. There are probably all kinds of people feeding ideas into his head about what he should be doing in situations like these. Dare we mention Stephen Strasburg here, the star pitcher that the Washington Nationals held out of the 2012 playoffs, not so much because he was injured but because he had passed some arbitrary pitch count?

4. Is Rose injury-prone? Does such a thing even exist? Are some athletes, Greg Oden and Rose included, just a bit more brittle than others? Is this latest injury simply the second of many more that we’ll have to painfully witness throughout this gifted player’s career?

I fully admit, these questions are all speculative. I have no inside sources here. But I do think they’re valid considerations. I suppose the rest of Rose’s career will provide the answers, one way or another.

Irish Ballers Abroad – November Update

This season TCC will be taking a regular look at all the Irish ballers applying their trade overseas at a variety of levels. If you know of a player we may have missed please get in touch using the contact details at the bottom of this post.

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Scannell in action vs UCONN

Scannell in action vs UCONN

Clodagh Scannell

Scannell is a sophomore at Boston University and has played in all four games so far this season with notable appearances against Harvard (3Pts, 2 Rebounds, 2 Assists) and vs URI (4 Assists). However her standout performance came this past week when she set a career high 9 points vs the legendary UCONN Huskies women’s basketball program. Scannell connected on three shots from downtown and also picked up 4 rebounds in the teams loss.

Neil Randolph

According to Randolph the Elmira Eagles team goal this year is to, at least, finish top 4 in their conference and win the conference tournament to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. His personal goal was to keep his starting spot and increase his stats across board and he is certainly doing that. Randolph averaged 7.9 points and 2.3 assists per game last season but this year is averaging 19.8 points, 1.5 assists and 5 rebounds per game while doing so efficiently, shooting 50% from the floor, 44% from three and 86% at the line. This follows a great start to the season where Randolph was named to the NYU tip-off tournament in Manhattan’s all-tournament team and just this week set a career high with 32 points and 9 rebounds vs Hilbert College. Check out his post-game interview below:

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O'Reilly is steadily improving in her new role in Spain.

O’Reilly is steadily improving in her new role in Spain.

Orla O’Reilly

O’Reilly is playing for Bembibre in the Liga Feminina, Spain’s top women’s basketball league. Bembibre find themselves in mid table after a 4-3 start to the season and the former Glanmire player is averaging 6.6 points, 1 rebound, 1.1 steals and 1.1 assists per game in 17.24 minutes of action. O’Reilly looks to be improving in her new surroundings as she has forced her way into the starting five and had her best game of the season last week going off for 16 points in a close loss to Gran Canaria. All Bembibre games can be viewed on the leagues YouTube channel and streamed live on FEB.tv

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Jordan McClelland

McClelland is one of a host of Irish players that have joined up with the Plymouth Raiders academy and the former North Star player has wasted no time in making his mark across the water.  McClelland has averaged 25.25 points in his first four academy games and was one of four academy players selected to play with the senior BBL squad. (Fellow Irish players Charlie Coombs and Jason Carr also called up to train with the BBL team) However after McClelland impressed in the BBL preseason none of the Irish players have yet been eligible to feature in the  BBL regular season due to licensing issues.  Despite this good news came last week when McClelland was named the Elite Basketball Academies League (EABL) “Player of the Week”.

Eric Westbrooks is the best on the ball defender at Thomas College

Eric Westbrooks is the best on the ball defender at Thomas College

Round Up

Eric Westbrooks has had a solid start to his junior season at Thomas College and is averaging 5.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists per game. Jordan Blout is playing for Gran Canaria this season but like a number of young Irish players has had trouble getting his FIBA License. Blout has confirmed that the license finally came through a few days ago and his first game is this Wednesday. Kate Maher is playing with BC Apollo in Amsterdam but has had a frustrating start to the season having sustained 2 broken ribs and might not see any action now until the new year. Patrick Lyons and Oisin Kerlin are both at Barking Abbey and have boon made the cut of the final 12 players selected to travel to Florida to play in the City of Palms classic in December where they will be up against such teams as Ganon Baker’s elev8 academy. Injury woes continue for UPENN’s Keelan Cairns as the Belfast man will sit out this season after picking up a back injury. Jessica Scannell is playing with the Nottingham Wildcats who are currently 5-2 in the EBL division one having just today secured a victory over the league leading Cardiff Archers who also feature an Irish player – Caoimhe Colgan. Scannell played a big part in the victory going for 16 points. Former Longford, Durham Wildcats, Shamrocks Hoops and Crailsheim Merlins player Mark Reynolds only decided this week that be would play competitive basketball after moving to London for his career. He has signed for Newham Neptune in the EBL1 and had his first game yesterday scoring 12 points in 25 mins of action. Chris Butler and Jason Killeen are both playing professional basketball in France and we will have a more in depth look at how they are progressing in the next update.

Niall McDermott is the Co-Founder and editor of The Courtside Collective and the owner of BasketballDirect.co.uk You can reach him on Twittter by following @nzamcdza or email him at niall@thecourtsidecollective.com 

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Will Michael Jordan Ever be Able to Improve one of the NBA’s Worst Franchises?

Hear the words “greatness” and “athlete” and who do you think of? For me, it is Michael Jordan, the former star of the Chicago Bulls. These days, he is a majority owner and head of basketball operations for the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, winners of 21 games during the 2012-2013 season. He has been with the organization since 2006.

Who could forget Jordan’s Hall-of-Fame-speech pronouncement that maybe someday he would decide to play the game again at 50 years old. If anyone would be crazy and competitive enough to do something like that, it would be Jordan. Well, last year it happened. Turning 50, that is. And of course, it sparked rumors, as crazy as they may have seemed, about a potential comeback. ESPN ran this fascinating piece, which claimed that Jordan can still hold his own in one-on-one match-ups against Bobcat players, but that the problem is recovering from it the next day. Ultimately, the comeback never happened.

Jordan still hooping at 50

So how easily transferable is greatness on the court to greatness in other areas, specifically, the front office? Well, it’s certainly not unprecedented. Larry Bird had some success with it in the Indiana Pacers‘ organization. Or how about Jerry West with the Los Angeles Lakers? But for whatever reasons, having Jordan around definitely hasn’t meant automatic (or even long-term) success for the Bobcats. Is there still hope?

The Bobcats have shown a little more fight in jumping out to a 5-6 start with wins against bigger-market teams like Boston and New York. The jury is still out on Indiana product and off-season lottery pick Cody Zeller, controversial decision in its own way, who is averaging just over five points and just under four rebounds in 17 minutes of work per contest.

Cody Zeller

In the early-going of the 2013-2014 season, the Bobcats have scored the basketball in a very balanced way, but they don’t seem to have much in the way of a single star who might be able to carry them to something as dreamlike as a playoff birth. Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Ramon Sessions, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Jeff Taylor are all averaging double figures in scoring, with Josh McRoberts right under. Jefferson has played sparingly due to an ankle injury.

If you’re looking for a model for what the organization seems to be trying to do — create a deep nucleus of young talent — you might look to the Pacers rather than the Heat. Which is interesting, considering the magnitude of Jordan’s own talent and stardom during his heyday. It is probably too early in the rebuilding process to expect the playoffs, but being consistently more competitive would be a good goal. It is fair to take the “long view” here, but Jordan isn’t exactly new to his role, so patience is surely waning in Charlotte.

NBA 2013-2014: A Chicago Bulls’ Season Preview

What did they do last year?

Last year’s Chicago Bulls were a playoff team after a 45-37 regular season, good enough for second place (behind the Indiana Pacers) in the Central Division. They went on to win an exciting seven-game playoff series with the Brooklyn Nets before falling to the Miami Heat, 4-1, in the second round. Interestingly, the Bulls did take the first game from the Heat in that series.

What looks different about the team this year?

Most importantly, Rose is in uniform and on the floor. In order for this team to become a serious contender, the Bulls will need Rose to be no less than his old self. Nate Robinson, who played well as basically a one-year rental at point guard, departed for the Denver Nuggets.

The Rose Update

Much has been said about Rose’s decision — a year after tearing his ACL — not to play in last years’ playoffs. Regardless, Rose is back and averaging just under 15 points and 5 assists per game. Expect those numbers to go up throughout the season as he regains form. One concern is that Rose sustained a minor hamstring injury in a recent win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, so that’s definitely something to keep on an eye on.

A rough start

The Bulls have only won half of their first six contests, with losses coming at the hands of the Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, and Pacers. They have struggled to put up points in the early going. This is not the kind of start they wanted, but it’s definitely not time to panic, as they spent a whole season trying to figure out how to play without Rose, but now they have to adjust back to his style of play. Head Coach Tom Thibodeau usually has the Bulls playing their basketball by playoff time, so I wouldn’t expect anything different this year.

Projections

As they proved last year, the Bulls are not a one-man show. Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah add a flavor of toughness to Rose’s finesse. Assuming Rose stays healthy, expect the Bulls to challenge the Pacers for the division and finish no lower than second place with a playoff birth to boot. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not they can seriously challenge the Pacers or the Heat in the playoffs.