Understanding the Chicago Bulls is a challenge. They beat the league's best on the road, but they lose to some of the worst at home. They play great defence but struggle to score.
Of this we can be sure: with a 20-15 record, and with their star due back next month, they very much are expected to make a run in the play-offs.
Derrick Rose, the 2011 MVP and their floor general, has resumed training. The Bulls are loath to predict his return from knee surgery, but most believe it will be shortly after the All-Star game on February 17.
"We're going to remain patient," said John Paxson, the Bulls general manager.
"Until we get him into real practice situations … and see how his body responds, we're not even going to come up with a plan for him to play."
The Bulls hope he will be able to even out their performances, which have seen them win 10 of 15 on the road, including a victory over the Miami Heat, the champions, but win only 10 of 20 at home.
The Bulls score an average of 93.5 points per game, 26th among 30 teams. They usually win, however, because they have the league's third-best defence, at 92.3 points per game,
Their coach, Tom Thibodeau, is a renowned defensive coach, but there is a growing feeling that this is as good as they can be, without Rose.
"Chicago is always going to defend you. They're always going to be in games," Doug Collins, the Philadelphia 76ers coach, said last month.
"But when you can't consistently score in this league, it's hard. If you don't have a guy that you can get that ball to and say, 'Go get your shot …'
"This is not a league of running plays. It's a league of making plays. And Derrick Rose is one of the best playmakers in the NBA."
No one had a better record than the Bulls (50-16) last season, but in the first play-off series, with Philadelphia, Rose's left knee snapped, and the 76ers ended their season.
The Bulls have scrambled to make up for the 21.9 points and 7.9 assists Rose averaged last season. Luol Deng, the Anglo-Sudanese forward, leads the Bulls in scoring at 17.7 points per game. Carlos Boozer, the veteran forward, is averaging 21.3 points and 10.9 rebounds in his past eight games.
Yet playing at home has remained an odd struggle.
"The Bulls are a very good team and are missing arguably the best player in the league," Alvin Gentry, the Phoenix Suns coach, said. "Things change when they get him back, and there will be consistency there."
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