The Chicago Bulls continued the most improbable streak of all on Thursday night. They beat the Golden State Warriors on TNT. No, I’m not talking about a win streak against Golden State, which currently sits at one; I’m talking about the Bulls stretching their win streak of home games on TNT to 18 or 19 games, depending on how you’re counting.
Chicago has been maddeningly average as a team and terrifyingly incompetent as a front office with vision. And yet, they keep winning prime time matchups on cable television.
The Bulls are a kind of also-ran team this year. They’re going to end up in the playoffs, but they don’t have the kind of depth or skill surrounding Jimmy Butler that they’ll need to bring home an NBA title this year or in the foreseeable future. And that Las Vegas Summer League title they picked up in 2016 is only going to carry so far. The Bulls need another non-Larry O’Brien Trophy title to chase.
Enter the in-season or mid-season tournament that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has referenced multiple times over the past three or four years. Silver notably brought it up in 2014 and again almost two months ago.
At the time this is being written, Chicago is 31-30. They’ve been rising just above, then slipping just below .500 all season. Their net margins are nearly dead even. This Bulls team is truly average as average gets. They done things like get embarrassed by the completely irrelevant Dallas Mavericks and take losses from teams like the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns.
However, put them on the big stage with all the lights on them and they can’t stop, won’t stop.
Their current streak on TNT is unbelievable, incredible, and hilarious. Here’s a list of notable teams they’ve beaten on TNT just this season:
San Antonio Spurs
Golden State Warriors
In addition to their TNT success, they’ve also picked up national television wins on ESPN and ABC against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers. Oh, and the Cavs? Chicago is 3-0 against them this season with just one matchup remaining between them – on TNT at the end of March.
All of this doesn’t include the bizarre win streak they have against the Toronto Raptors.
With the exception of the Heat, all of these teams are among the team contenders in both conferences, or at least better than the Bulls.
And this is where the strange success of the Bulls against the best teams on the biggest stages collides with Silver’s comments about an in-season tournament and we tie them together.
The city itself is massive, loves basketball and is growing more and more impatient for another contender. We’re going on 19 years since Chicago was in the NBA Finals. The Bulls have proven they can win, just not in the post-season and definitely not in the post-season against LeBron James.
Chicago is the perfect torchbearer for Silver’s in-season tournament. A team that knows how to gear up and leave heavily on Butler when they need a win.
It’s been a long time since the Bulls were the best team in the NBA, nearly two very long decades have passed since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen terrorized the league in the red and black that is now sported by guys like Paul Zipser, Cameron Payne and Rajon Rondo. Still, Jerry Reinsdorf and his son, Michael, have been cashing checks off the strength of the name this whole time. Ask NBA fans in the Philippines if they love the Bulls. Ask fans in Mexico City if they still love Michael Jordan.
Mexico City is one of the places that is being focused on for the possibility of either an expansion team or an NBA tournament.
Chicago is the most peculiar anomaly. A team that can’t get out of its own way on or off the court, but also can beat almost any (good) team that can’t get out of their way on national television. When the lights shine the brightest, the Bulls are ready to play. Now, they just need to be in an environment where they have a chance to put all these ultimately meaningless regular season victories to good use – a tournament.