Chicago Bulls at their best, and worst, against the Knicks and Nets

On Sunday afternoon, the Chicago Bulls put on an absolute clinic against the laughable New York Knicks, passing and cutting and shooting and defending and taking care of the ball like your high school basketball coach always wanted you to.

On Monday night, the Chicago Bulls got absolutely torched by the quicker, more talented Brooklyn Nets, turning the ball over 28 times, allowing straight drives to the rim and looking pretty awful in every aspect of offensive basketball.

This is the life the Bulls must live when you rely on effort and heart to cover up a lack of talent. One night, those intangibles will come together with a hot shooting night (or a terrible defensive team like the Knicks) and make beautiful basketball music, with precise passes and backdoor cuts and wonderful defensive rotations.

But other nights, the contested Mike Dunleavy jumpers, Carlos Boozer fadeaways and D.J. Augustin floaters will refuse to go in and the lack of dynamic talent will waste the opportunity the defense and effort provide.

It’s a frustrating thing to watch. It’s a paradox too: we are always taught that defense and rebounding and effort will give you a chance to win every night. Yet the Bulls, maybe the most defense-y and effort-y team in the NBA, vacillate between some really beautiful wins and some incredibly ugly losses.

It’s probably what happens when you have to rely on an undermanned team to play above their true talent level.

It also raises an interesting discussion as to how effective the Bulls can be in the playoffs. After dismantling the Knicks on Sunday, Joakim Noah said he feels they can beat anyone in the East in a post-game interview.

Looking at the landscape of the terrible Eastern Conference, the Bulls are in a close battle for the third seed with the Toronto Raptors. I would take the Bulls in a close series over the Raptors. The prevailing sentiment is that the Bulls would be toast against the Miami Heat but would give the Indiana Pacers a good battle. That’s probably true, as the Bulls could get the slow-paced Pacers into low-scoring slugfests, and no one is better at winning those slugfests than the Bulls (well, other than the Pacers).

As has been the case for years now, the Bulls probably won’t have enough offense to get past Miami, and the Pacers have enough scoring threats to overcome the Bulls in a 7-game series.

But it’s a testament to the Bulls that we are discussing playoff prospects instead of lottery prospects. It speaks to Tom Thibodeau’s tireless drive, Joakim Noah’s every-night effort, and a group of guys that have a special chemistry and locker room, that the Bulls, after losing Derrick Rose and dumping Luol Deng, haven’t fallen off the face of the playoff picture. In fact, they have thrived and risen to the 3 seed.

Just like Sunday afternoon against the Knicks, the Bulls would probably whip the Pacers in a game, and probably bully a win away from the Heat in the playoffs.

Just like Monday night, though, the scrappy Bulls would probably have (too many) off-nights offensively, and would be sent packing their bags towards a potentially franchise-changing offseason.

Such is the 2013-2014 season for the Chicago Bulls.

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