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Written by Mike Loszach | 21 April 2011

I’ve really started to hear a lot of negative talk about the Bulls based on their first two postseason games. Comments about how they’re a “one man team” and “Derrick won’t be able to keep this up all postseason long.” I even heard that our old friend Skip Bayless, now on ESPN, said Atlanta would beat them in 5 should we meet up in the 2nd round. Yes, the same Atlanta that we beat by about 500 points in Atlanta in the 2nd game of a back-to-back for us.

It would be one thing if we had lost both games at home, or even one, but we are 2-0 and really just need to split in Indiana to have us looking real good in the series. Maybe I’m a little too old school, but I don’t care much for style points. In the postseason I subscribe to the “a win is a win” theory. Do I think the Bulls can play better than they have shown in the first two games? Yes. Do I think they will need to play better down the road? Yes. Do I think they will play better? Yes. We’re 2-0, just like we should be, and there is absolutely no reason to panic like I hear some fans doing. I’m pretty sure San Antonio and Los Angeles would trade places with us in a second. I guess I’m just a little frustrated that people (mostly Nationally) are counting the Bulls out because of the way they have played in two games…. Two games that THEY WON! But I guess most of those people have been picking against the Bulls all year long so they’re probably rooting against the Bulls so that they can feel like they’re smart. Rant over.

Moving on to tonight’s game, the big question is about Darren Collison. It sounds like he is a game-time decision, but I’m going to take the same approach I’m sure Thibs is taking and assume that he is going to play. Collison is a difference maker for the Pacers, we saw that in game one. If he’s unable to go that would be a huge break for Indiana, but I would expect him to do whatever it takes to get on the floor. If he does play, it will be interesting to see how close to full strength he is.

From the Bulls standpoint, it’s kind of the same thing we’ve been saying for the entire series. I would like to see them play looser on offense and play with intensity on defense. I feel like one big run for our guys would sort of take the weight of the world off their shoulders. I would still like to see the Bulls go down low as often as possible because I don’t think the Indiana bigs can stop Boozer much. But, I’m looking at Loul Deng in this one. He has been pretty quiet so far this series. He’s averaging 16 PPG but it’s a quiet 16 if you know what I mean. He made some comments expressing some frustration about people calling the Bulls “a one man team.” I’m hoping he goes out their tonight and proves to everyone that they’re not.

Stat of the Day:

Chicago out rebounded Indiana 49-34 in game one and 57-33 in game two.

Probable Indiana Starters:

G – Darren Collison, 12.5 PPG

G – Paul George, 4.0 PPG

F – Danny Granger, 21.5 PPG

F – Tyler Hansbrough, 14.0 PPG

C – Roy Hibbert, 9.5 PPG

Probable Chicago Starters:

G – Derrick Rose, 37.5 PPG

G – Keith Bogans, 1.5 PPG

F – Luol Deng, 16.0 PPG

F – Carlos Boozer, 14.5 PPG

C – Joakim Noah, 7.0 PPG

Prediction:

Current Line: Chicago -4, Over/Under 189

This one is going to be an absolute dog fight. The Pacers know that they need this one. Going down 3-0 in a Best of 7 series pretty much kills your hope of winning the series. They’re back home and they’ve proved to themselves that they can play with the Bulls. We are going to get their best effort tonight. I expect them to continue to try and beat up on Derrick. Like game 1, the Bulls need to step up and have his back. Unlike game 1, however, somebody else is going to have to step up and really help Derrick out. Boozer really shouldn’t have a hard time going for 20 and 10 against the Indiana bigs, but he’ll have to keep himself on the court to do that. The Bulls will have to play better defensively than they did in game 1 and better offensively than they did in game 3 to win this one. I think they will. I also think that Derrick will take a lot better care of the ball in this one than he did in game 2.

Bulls 94 Pacers 93

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Written by Mike Loszach | 17 April 2011

Well game one didn’t go as planned, but I’ll take it. It has been previously discussed on this blog but the defense and energy that the bulls started the game with was not at the level that we’ve grown used to seeing all season long. My hope (and expectation) is that the run we made in the final 3 and a half minutes yesterday will spark the team for the rest of the series. Having a win under their belt should eliminate the postseason jitters that we saw early on and loosen this team up.

I said that I wanted to see the Bulls go down low offensively early in Game 1 and get those guys going. It looked like that was what they tried to do, but then Carlos started fouling and getting beat defensively and we got behind and all bets were off. I still think that it is very important that somebody steps up as that secondary scorer. It’s not fair to expect your point guard to score 39 points and get to the line 20 times every game this postseason. Somebody needs a 20+ point game tomorrow. Deng is probably the most likely candidate. He has been that number 2 scorer all year long and I was surprised to see that he finished with 18 on Saturday.

However, if he is able to consistently stay the court, there is no reason Carlos Boozer shouldn’t score 20 points against Indiana. He scored 20+ points in 2 of the 3 games he played against Indiana in the regular season. Again, I’d love to see the Bulls try to go to him early and get him going.

It will also be interesting to see what the mindset is for the Pacers heading in to game 2. Do they take the mindset that they played their best game and still lost? Or, did they prove to themselves that they can clearly play with the Bulls and come out swinging again? It will be interesting to see how they come out and I’ll be watching them closely. It would be fantastic if the Bulls started fast and gave Indiana a reason to start doubting themselves.

Stat of the Day:

Two bench players, Kyle Korver and Kurt Thomas, has the two best +/- ratings in Game 1. Korver at +13 and Thomas at +11.

Probable Indiana Starters:

G – Darren Collison 17.0 PPG

G – Paul George, 2.0 PPG

F – Danny Granger, 24.0 PPG

F – Tyler Hansbrough, 22.0 PPG

C – Roy Hibbert, 11.0 PPG

Probable Chicago Starters:

G – Derrick Rose, 39.0 PPG

G – Keith Bogans, 0.0 PPG

F – Luol Deng, 18.0 PPG

F – Carlos Boozer, 12.0 PPG

C – Joakim Noah, 10.0 PPG

Prediction:

Current Line: Chicago -12, Over/Under 190.5

It is hard to imagine the Pacers shooting quite as well as they did in game 1 and you would have to think that Thibs will get the Bulls to play better defensively in game 2. I think that the big comeback will loosen this team up a little bit and the team we see in game 2 will be a lot more similar to the team we watched all regular season. If a secondary scorer steps up and gives Derrick a hand the Bulls should take a 2-0 series lead.

Bulls 96 Pacers 87

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Written by Mike Loszach | 16 April 2011

The end of the Game

Wow. Simply unbelievable. I fully admit after that terrible sequence by Carlos Boozer where he turned it over and then gave a cheap full as Tyler Hansbrough was throwing it down I thought for sure the game was over. The lead was 10, it was getting late, and I thought that sequence by Hansbrough (who scored I think 7 points in a row) was enough to sustain the spark that Luol was trying to be.

Then, just like that, we were back. I’m trying to play it out in my head, and like most big comebacks, it’s hard to remember how you came all the way back so quickly. I remember Joakim had a tip in, then a dunk with a foul thanks to a sweet pass from Derrick. It’s incredible how well Derrick sees the floor. And then he took over…. The and 1 to cut it to 2 was absolutely huge, and then the spin move that led to the game tying bucket was just dirty. Before you knew it he was driving and kicking to Kyle with a chance to take the lead. Like my friend Carl said via text message today, “you just knew Korver was going to make that shot.”

The biggest thing down the stretch was that the defensive intensity was finally there. The offense wasn’t a problem, but for much of the game the defense was appalling. We we’re trading buckets all game long and that’s not how you come back on a team. But down the stretch we were finally able to string some stops together and that was what we really needed all game long. I don’t think the Pacers scored a field goal for about the final 4 minutes of the game.

I also love the emotion today. The game really seemed to turn around after Luol’s technical foul. He really got the crowd in the game. We really seemed to feed off of the crowd and the momentum is the final minutes of the game. I was also laughing like crazy watching Joakim lose his mind at the end of the game.

Derrick

Wow. The most impressive stat to me was 19-for-21 from the Free Throw line. And like Thibs said after the game, he could have had a few more. Late in the game it seemed like he was able to get to the rim whenever he wanted. Remember how early in the year we were frustrated at how few Free Throws he was shooting? He could have shot 25 tonight. The Pacers made it clear that they wanted to hammer him but it really didn’t seem to bother him. Early in the game after a hard foul from Foster he got up nodding and saying “okay” as if to say “it’s on now.” He stayed calm all game long and knocked down his free throws. We needed every one of those free throws. And he sees the court so well. Some of the passes he was able to make today were incredible. I do have to say though, that he really seemed to struggle defensively for most of the game.

The Defense today

It wasn’t just Derrick, the entire team was very bad defensively. Carlos Boozer was awful again tonight. He owes Derrick Rose a big “thank you” because if we had lost this game he would be taking a lot more heat these next two days than he will be now that we won the game. But he was just terrible tonight. With him playing average ball offensively, if doesn’t at least step it up to adequate defensively we’re better off going with guys like Thomas, Gibson, and Asik for longer stretches. As mad as I was at Boozer, it really was a team effort (or lack thereof) defensively today. We should never give up 55 first half points at home. Never. That goes against everything this team has stood for this year.

Where do we go from here?

Boy, it feels like we stole one today, doesn’t it? In reality, all we did was hold serve at home but it feels like so much more. There are two ways the Pacers can go from here. If they’re a character bunch they can say, we outplayed the Bulls today. We proved we can play with them and this is going to be a heck of a series. The other way they can go from here, perhaps more likely, is to say that they played their best game today and they still lost the game. I have a hard time believing that Granger, Hansbrough, and Collison are all going to continue to play as well as they did today. My hope is that the Bulls got the jitters out of their system today and will play much better the remainder of the series. You have to think that the final 4 minutes of today’s game will really loosen them up. A convincing win on Monday would be huge.

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Written by Mike Loszach | 15 April 2011

Now the fun starts. After a very memorable regular season that saw the Bulls surpass all of our expectations, it’s time to start the second season. Saturday at noon the ball will go up at the United Center and the NBA postseason will be underway. The usual postseason chatter has began a little bit, although I doubt you’ll ever hear much coming from the Bulls mouths. They don’t seem like that type of team, maybe Joakim, but I can’t see the rest of them doing too much talking. Danny Granger has said if they stop Derrick the bulls don’t have much else and the rest of the team is taking the “us against the world” mentality. That’s fine. Any added fuel to the fire is fine by me. Let’s see how guys like Luol, Carlos, and Joakim respond.

Like most games where one team is clearly superior on paper to the other, I think it’s important for the Bulls to jump on the Pacers early and send them a message in game one. Make it clear to them that they don’t belong. They may be coming in with a little bit of confidence after their overtime win against us last month in Indiana. If we play at all like we did in one of our first three games against Indiana it should send a clear message that this isn’t going to be much of a series.

I also think that it is key to get Boozer and Noah going early. They’re both going to be important players for us in the postseason. Carlos has had some really good games against Indiana this year. I would love to see that continue in this series and give him a boost heading in to the second round. Joakim has been so banged up this year, but he hasn’t played like himself recently. The postseason has brought out the best in him so far in his early career. The Boston series two years ago was kind of like a coming out party for him and he was a monster last year against Cleveland. He’s probably the player I will be watching closest in this series. I would absolutely love to see him get it going. We don’t need anything spectacular out of him, but I would love to see a double-double. Seems pretty reasonable.

Other than that, I just want to see what we’ve been seeing all year and we’ll be fine. Let’s get everyone’s feet wet and keep the good vibes going. Thibs doesn’t necessarily have to play the bench as many minutes as he did in the regular season since they’re won’t be any back-to-backs to worry about. It will be a little interesting to see how he handles the rotation since the “Bench mob” has been so good for us this year. I have full confidence that Thibs will handle it correctly, though. He’s earned my confidence.

Stat of the Day:

In the Bulls 3 wins over the Pacers this season they outscored Indiana by an average of 17.6 points.

Probable Indiana Starters:

G – Darren Collison 13.2 PPG

G – Paul George, 7.8 PPG

F – Danny Granger, 20.4 PPG

F – Tyler Hansbrough, 11.0 PPG

C – Roy Hibbert, 12.7 PPG

Probable Chicago Starters:

G – Derrick Rose, 25.0 PPG

G – Keith Bogans, 4.4 PPG

F – Luol Deng, 17.4 PPG

F – Carlos Boozer, 17.5 PPG

C – Joakim Noah, 11.7 PPG

Prediction:

Current Line: Chicago -11, Over/Under 188.5

The Bulls are the better team here. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. If they play the type of basketball they played all season long there is no reason why they shouldn’t win this series with ease. Rose and Boozer have had great games against Indiana this season, and I think the Pacers will continue to have a hard time slowing those two down. Sorry Danny Granger, there goes your game plan. The game will be played in front of a raucous crowd at the UC, where the Bulls have been amazing this year. The Bulls play their game and win this one without making us nervous at all.

Bulls 102 Pacers 83

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Written by Mike Loszach | 14 April 2011

This post is meant to preview the entire series by looking at regular season stats. It will be slightly different than the game preview threads that you see from me frequently on HTTH. You will see those threads for the postseason too, but this one is meant more to look at the entire series. For the most part, I'll keep my opinion out of this one until the series prediction at the bottom.

Regular Season Matchups

12/13/2010 – Pacers 73 Bulls 92 (Boozer CHI 22 PTS, 18 REB)

1/14/2011 – Bulls 99 Pacers 86 (Rose CHI 29 PTS, 10 REB, 5 AST)

1/29/2011 – Pacers 89 Bulls 110 (Boozer CHI 24 PTS, 10 REB)

3/18/2011 – Bulls 108 Pacers 115 F/OT (Hansbrough IND 29 PTS 12 REB)

Chicago Regular Season Leaders:

Scoring: Derrick Rose (25.0 PPG, .445 FG%, 2026 PTS)

Assists: Derrick Rose (7.7 APG, 623 AST)

Rebounds: Joakim Noah (10.4 RPG, 498 REB)

Blocks: Joakim Noah (1.50 BLKPG, 72 BLK)

Steals: Ronnie Brewer (1.31 STLPG, 106 STL)

Indiana Regular Season Leaders:

Scoring: Danny Granger (20.5 PPG, .425 FG%, 1622 PTS)

Assists: Darren Collison (5.1 APG, 403 AST)

Rebounds: Roy Hibbert (7.5 RPG, 610 REB)

Blocks: Roy Hibbert (1.75 BLKPG, 142 BLK)

Steals: Danny Granger (1.13 STLPG, 89 STL)

2011 Team Stats

PPG: Bulls 98.6, Pacers 99.8

RPG: Bulls 44.2, Pacers 43.5

APG: Bulls 22.3, Pacers 19.6

FG%: Bulls .462, Pacers .442

FT%: Bulls .743, Pacers .782

3PT%: Bulls .361, Pacers .354

Prediction

Current Line (Series) – Chicago -3500, Indiana +1750

We’ll get a lot more into talking about this series in the individual game preview threads. But at the risk of sounding way too over confident, this series shouldn’t be much of a struggle for the Bulls. The three wins came relatively easy to the Bulls, and the one loss came in OT in a game where the Bulls started sluggish and then made a huge ran to send it to OT. We’ve seen in the head-to-head matchups that Indiana is going to have a very hard time figuring out how to stop Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer.

Bulls win the series 4 games to 0.

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Written by Mike Loszach | 10 April 2011

This is going to be one of my more emotional posts. I just got finished watching a terrific basketball game between the Bulls and the Magic and I’m riding high right now. Going right to my keyboard instead of giving myself a little bit of time to calm down. I know this game really didn’t mean that much to the Bulls but as the game went on and on I got more and more into it. I love the attitude the Bulls showed too. They could have coasted a little bit when the Magic kept sinking 3 after 3, but they kept playing and refused to lose.

Derrick Rose was incredible today. Absolutely incredible. There is no longer any question at all about who the MVP of the league is. Stan Van Gundy got that one right. Speaking of Stan, he really didn’t say anything that wrong about Derrick. He was mostly pretty complimentary of Derrick. He did say that he thinks Howard affects more possessions than Derrick, which I’m not sure I agree with, but he was sticking up for his guy and I have no problem with that.

I absolutely love the way that Derrick has responded to Van Gundy’s quotes though. My favorite thing about Michael Jordan was the way he would step up anytime anyone was critical of him or challenged him in any way. He took it personal out there on the court. If Dikembe Mutombo gave a finger wave, he would throw down on him and wave right back. If Jerry Stackhouse anointed himself the “best guard to ever come out of North Carolina” MJ would give him a quick, on the spot history lesson of who the greatest UNC guard of all time is. Now, it’s completely and totally unfair to compare Derrick to Michael… I get that.  Michael is, and always will be, the greatest player to ever play basketball. However, the way that Derrick responded to Stan’s comments had me thinking of Michael all day long.

He gave Stan an up close and personal look at just who the real MVP of the league is. He just refused to let his team lose today in a game that was pretty insignificant to the Bulls. I LOVE THAT. Look at his stat line today: 39 pts, 13-17 FG, 3-5 3PT, and most importantly 10-10 FT. This was an incredible performance today. Also, how many Free Throws has he made in a row now? 29, I think? This was the guy that people said couldn’t shoot last year. Talk about working at your game. And how about that defense on Nelson on the final possession? Very great defense and showed a high basketball IQ with his knowledge of the clock.

And he sent a message to the team he will most likely be seeing in the second round. Do you think any of them honestly are feeling good about playing the Bulls in a 7 game series right now? Do you think any of them truly believe that they can stop Derrick? Sure, they were without Howard today (because he put himself ahead of the team, like so many NBA players do), but we beat them with Howard when we were without Noah. I’m not worried about that. We’ve been without key guys all season long.

I’m so pumped right now, and the most impressive thing is his best days are ahead of him. Can’t wait to see what he has in store for us in a few weeks.

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Written by Marco Radenkovich | 08 April 2011

Every championship caliber team has a "cult hero."  Since Brian Scalabrine does not dress anymore, the hero to many is Kurt Thomas.  I've never liked Kurt Thomas as much as most, but I realize the value he has for the Bulls.

Thomas' contributions in the absence of Noah have been exaggerated.  I mean the guy's PER was around 10.  He's a shell of what he once was, and has limitations at 38.  He can hit 15 footers all day, and set really good picks (ask Darren Collison) but that's the extent of his contributions on the offensive end.  Defensively, he has good hands, and is a "crafty veteran," while showing the ability to take charges and bang with opposing big guys down low. 

When looking at past Bulls playoffs teams, one thing that those teams never had was an enforcer, or a tough guy.  When we beat the Heat a few years back, we didn't have one.  When we played Detroit, Boston and Cleveland, we didn't have one.  In 2011, we have our body guard.

And I'm my world of stats, I don't necessarily put a value on what "Big Sexy" brings to the table other than his limited game.  He's the protection for Derrick Rose and Luol Deng when they don't get calls or when they're violently fouled under the rim.  He gets under the skin of mentally weaker players such as "Big Baby."  He'll continue to do that in the later series of the playoffs.  I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't play much in the first series, but I suspect he'll be guarding Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, etc. when the time comes.

Every player on this team has a role.  And every player on this team knows their role.  Kurt Thomas' role is to beat the hell out of someone without getting in too much trouble.  Is it dirty?  No, not really.  Is it necessary?  Probably not.  But can he help the Bulls?  Yes.  

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Written by Mike Loszach | 07 April 2011

“I think it’s going to be a zoo in here on Thursday,” Noah said. “It’s very exciting.” I agree with Joakim, it is very exciting. Expect a playoff atmosphere at the UC tonight between the two best teams in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls always seem to bring it against the league’s best teams and the Celtics still believe they can run down the Bulls for the #1 seed in the East. I’m expecting a very tough, low scoring basketball game tonight.

This is the Bulls first look at the new look Celtics. They have dropped two of the first three against Boston and could really use this game to even up the season series. The OT game they dropped at Boston early in the season still stings a little bit. This will be Joakim Noah’s second game back after spraining the ankle. He looked a little off against the Suns, grabbing only four rebounds. The Bulls will certainly need a better effort out of him tonight defensively and on the glass if they hope to win.

Stat of the Day:

These two teams rank #1 and #2 in the NBA in both defense rating and opponents PPG.

Probable Boston Starters:

G – Rajon Rondo, 10.6 PPG

G – Ray Allen, 16.7 PPG

F – Paul Pierce, 18.8 PPG

F- Kevin Garnett, 14.9 PPG

C – Jermaine O’Neal, 5.2 PPG

Probable Chicago Starters:

G – Derrick Rose, 25.1 PPG

G – Keith Bogans, 4.3 PPG

F – Luol Deng, 17.5 PPG

F – Carlos Boozer, 17.8 PPG

C – Joakim Noah, 12.1 PPG

Prediction:

Current Line: Chicago -4.5, Over/Under 179

It’s important to remember that this game means a little bit more to Boston than it does to Chicago. It’s a game that the Celtics need. It’s a game that the Bulls want. Don’t tell that to the Bulls players though. Expect both teams to bring their best game. I worry a little bit about Joakim Noah though. He’s a key against Boston and he did look off against Phoenix. This game is going to be closely contested and a low scoring. Take the points.

Celtics 89 Bulls 88

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Written by Mike Loszach | 07 April 2011

Looking at this game I can’t help but think of how far the Bulls have come. This is a game that the Celtics need to have a chance at the #1 seed in the East. Marco and I had this conversation recently, and it’s fun to look back at how our expectations have progressed as the season has gone on. When the season began, I thought it was reasonable to expect the Bulls to win the Central Division and win a playoff series. I thought that would be a good season for this team that was still growing, but clearly heading in the right direction. However, after a 9-8 start to the season the Bulls got hot…. And stayed hot. For all intents and purposes the Bulls had the division won by January.

Naturally, with the hot play of the team my expectations increased as well. I started to look at the top 4 teams in the East and thought how great it would be if the Bulls could somehow find their way into the 2-seed in the East. This would allow them to avoid the Knicks in the first round and give them homecourt advantage in the second round against the Heat. The Bulls kept winning and worked their way up to the 2-seed in the East. I was ecstatic. And then something awesome happened…. The Bulls kept winning.

Now we find ourselves three games better than anyone else in the East. Admit it, we all liked this team coming in to the season, but this is far better than any of us expected. I don’t care what Colin Cowherd makes up in an attempt to defend his “Lebron for MVP” campaign, nobody had this Bulls team winning the Eastern conference.

What’s my point? I don’t know for sure. I guess it’s just an attempt to show how great this season has been for our Bulls. When the season started, I hoped we would win a playoff series. Now? Who am I to count them out against anybody? But, Bulls fans I beg off you: If the Bulls do lose in the postseason. Please keep your head about you. Understand how far this team has come this season and how high the ceiling is for this team. Don’t you dare call this season a failure based on a performance in a 7-game series. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

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Written by Marco Radenkovich | 07 April 2011

Even though the Bulls are in the playoffs, and the regular season isn't complete yet, I'm always looking at the NBA draft.  Part of the reason is that Marquette has had some success in the draft and the NBA recently, and the other part is that I'm always interested to see who the Bulls would get.

Early entries have been announced, and even though some players haven't hired agents yet, we have a pretty good feel for who is staying in the draft.

In this post, we're going to assume the Bulls will keep its three draft picks.  As of today, the Bulls hold picks 25, 28 and 42.  By assessing needs and draft strength, we should be able to come up with a pretty solid group of people that they could take. 

Bulls Needs:
Shooting Guard - Keith Bogans is bad at basketball, and while Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver are great off the bench, the Bulls could certainly find a better player to play 15 minutes than Bogans.  A shooter would be the best fit here, and a decent defender.  Someone in the Courtney Lee mold, since the Rockets won't part with him unless we move Omer Asik.

Small Forward - Luol Deng has played great this year, especially in 2011, and has been a key cog in the Bulls machine.  The Bulls wouldn't be where they are today without Luol.   That said, Luol has an injury history.  He's only played all 82 games once in his seven year career, and even though he may play/start all 82 this year, he's no guarantee in the future.  The Bulls could use a slasher.

Bulls Draft Strategy:
This year's class is weak at shooting guard, which is the Bulls biggest weakness.  The class is strong at the athletic 4 spot.  There could be some sleepers late, but the Bulls best strategy might be to take the best available player. 

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