Whenever the Sixers are mentioned, by anyone, as a good team the disclaimer "they haven't beaten anyone good" has to be included. For some reason, the Bulls are immune to the same scrutiny, but should they be?
First of all, let me state for the record that I believe the Bulls are a very good team. Possibly the best team in the Eastern Conference. That being said, though, they've pretty much assembled their 18-5 record the same way the Sixers have (beating up on bad teams) and they haven't beaten a quality team in quite some time.
The Bulls opened their season with a win over the Bynum-less Lakers. They followed that up with a loss to the Warriors. Their next "notable" win came in LA against the Clippers. They destroyed the Grizzlies (without Mike Conley) and beat a full strength Atlanta Hawks team on January 3rd. Since the 3rd, they've played 17 games and compiled a 13-4 record.
The only "playoff" teams they've beaten in that stretch are Boston and Orlando (both which are hardly considered elite). Meanwhile, they've lost games to Memphis (without Zach Randolph), Atlanta, Indiana and Miami. If you want to count Orlando and Boston as "good wins" (and I'm not sure why Chicago gets a good win for beating the Magic when the Sixers don't, but whatever), they haven't won a tough game since January 13th. If you don't count Boston and Orlando, they haven't won a tough game since January 3rd.
If people graded the Bulls on the Sixers' scale, this is what they'd have:
- Two "solid" wins over LAC (3rd game of the year for a completely rebuilt team) and ATL (two-point win, that ATL basically coughed up)
- Two asterisked wins over LAL (minus Bynum), over MEM (minus Conley)
- Two almost-impressive-at-the-time, but don't count now because the teams turned out to be pretty bad wins over BOS and ORL
- Twelve wins that don't count at all because they were over: SAC, DET, DET, MIN (pre-Rubio starting), WAS, TOR, PHO, CLE, CHA, NJN, MIL and WAS
- Two bad losses to MEM (without Randolph) and GSW.
- And three other losses that prove they can't hang with playoff teams: ATL, IND MIA
My point here isn't that the Bulls aren't a good team, it's that what the Sixers have done to this point of the season is meaningful. They've played elite ball, just like Chicago has. It's only when people look at what Chicago has done, it's viewed through the lens of people who already believe in a team. They don't dissect every win and every loss as a testament to whether the team belongs in elite company or not. It's because they had an unbelievable regular season last year, and went to the Eastern Conference Finals (where they lost to the Heat in five games, just like the Sixers did two rounds earlier).
In December last year, the Sixers got a wake-up call from the Bulls in the form of a 41-point blowout. Everyone remembers that game. It was a clear sign the Sixers were wannabes while the Bulls were on their way to elite status. What people forget is the Sixers came back to beat the Bulls the next two times they played, once in Philly and once in Chicago, by 12 points in a game that wasn't really that close.
A win over Chicago would be a signature win for this team, of course it would probably carry the "Deng didn't play" disclaimer, but it would open some doubters' eyes. That's not really important. The important thing is for the Sixers to realize they belong. To play like they belong. Their journey to this point has been identical, a fairly easy schedule where they took care of the teams they had to and played the good teams tight. Last season, they proved they can hang with the Bulls, don't come into this game with any fear. Come in with the confidence that you own your home court and if you play your game, the Bulls can't beat you.
Game preview will land around noon. Tip is at 7pm. Game thread around 5.