Bulls playing like a real NBA team again

Monday, December 23, 2002

CHICAGO -- Don't go looking for spots to hang new banners or start clearing out room in the trophy case just yet.

At 10-17, the Chicago Bulls still have a long way to go before they make a championship run like Michael Jordan and his sidekicks.

But with six victories in the last eight games and their first four-game home winning streak since March 1998, the Bulls are actually playing like a real NBA team again.

"I am happy with the fact our team is winning games," said Jalen Rose, the catalyst for Chicago's resurgence. "Obviously 10-17 isn't a first-place record. But when I got traded here in February, the team only had 11 wins.

"We're making progress, but we have a long way to go."

Hey, after the horror show the last few years, Chicago will take progress.

Since general manager Jerry Krause broke up the championship gang after their sixth title in 1998, the Bulls have been the NBA's worst team. They've lost at least 60 games each of the past three years. In 1999, when the lockout shortened the season to 50 games, they dropped 37.

Ten victories don't seem like a lot until you consider the Bulls didn't reach double-digits until Feb. 2 last season. The year before? March 2.

And in the weak Eastern Conference, the Bulls' record puts them just 3 1/2 games out of a playoff spot.

"The eighth spot is not saying a lot, but it's saying a lot for a team that hasn't been in the playoffs for a couple of years," forward Marcus Fizer said.

The Bulls' revival can be traced back to this time last year, when Tim Floyd resigned under pressure and was replaced by Bill Cartwright. An All-Star center who won three championships with the Bulls, Cartwright commanded the respect from players Floyd never had.

He also preached defense, insisting the Bulls get back to the pesky, aggressive ways that were a trademark of title teams.

Then in February, Krause traded for Rose. The Bulls had to give up defensive specialist Ron Artest and developing big man Brad Miller to get Rose, but Chicago badly needed a scorer and a star-caliber player.

That's exactly what Rose has been. He's led Chicago in all but seven of the first 27 games. On Saturday night, he set a United Center record by scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter to give Chicago a 110-103 victory over his old team, the Indiana Pacers.

"He is here to score, to be a leader, and take over by doing what he has to do," Donyell Marshall said.

The trade also gave Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler more playing time. While the Baby Bulls aren't yet the NBA force Krause envisioned when he took them out of high school, they're slowly getting better, particularly Chandler.

Chandler, the No. 2 pick in the 2001 draft, has emerged as Chicago's starting center, averaging nine points and six rebounds in his last four games. In Monday night's victory over the Boston Celtics, he set the tone with 13 points in the first quarter.

"They're still trying to bring those guys along," Miller said. "(But) you can tell they're playing a lot tougher this year."

The other piece in the turnaround came this summer, when Marshall signed with the Bulls as a free agent. Though he doesn't get the hype some of the other Bulls do, his contributions have been huge.

He leads the Bulls with 12 double-doubles, including four in the last five games. He ranks eighth in the league with 10.2 rebounds a game and is tied for 11th with a .497 field goal percentage.

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