Bulls Need to Embody Chicago Spirit in Playoffs


Playoffs or bust. Postseason is a must.

That was my outlook on this season’s Chicago Bulls. After five years, two head-coaching changes, a new face of the franchise, and an overdue front-office refresh, the Bulls are a playoff team once again.

That alone makes this season a success. It’s reason enough to be excited about the team and direction of the franchise. After all, it is the next step the Bulls needed to take.

But a playoff berth isn’t going to mean much if they can’t make the most of it. Because it’s one step to make the playoffs.

It’s another to be a playoff team—to actually compete in the playoffs.

The Deficits That Led to Chicago’s Downfall

Chicago returns to the postseason as the No. 6 seed in the East and will face a division rival in the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. It’s likely a tough matchup for the Bulls, considering how the Bucks swept the season series, 4-0.

On top of that, Chicago hasn’t been good. The thrilling, feel-good Bulls that defended well and worked seamlessly as a team earlier this season disappeared. Chicago failed to put up a solid second half of the regular season — going 8-15 since the All-Star break — and the team isn’t as strong. It’s what makes the Bulls’ playoff potential questionable.

This shortcoming is in part due to injuries. An anchor in the Bulls’ defense, Alex Caruso missed half of the regular season due to a foot strain, a hamstring strain, a right-wrist fracture, back spasms and a bout with COVID.

The other significant loss for Chicago has been Lonzo Ball. Once the Bulls’ starting point guard, he has been out since mid-January with a minor meniscus tear in his left knee. Like Caruso, the Bulls have missed his defense. But the lack of his playmaking ability and three-point shooting prowess have made his absence felt even further.

Learning Opportunity

Caruso, who recently was out with back spasms, is set to be back in the lineup Sunday, when the series tips off. Ball, however, is out for the season.

Despite these disappointing injuries, the Bulls need to use the playoffs as a learning opportunity. They aren’t expected to make it past the first round. Albeit not ideal, that expectation, even if realized, is okay. The playoffs were the necessary first step in a long process. It’s only the first year with this new-look Bulls.

But even if victory isn’t expected or likely, they cannot approach the postseason with the same lackluster demeanor they were often seen with as the regular season winded down.

Chicago has potential. The impressive start for the year was proof of that promise. The fact they didn’t let their downfall take them out of the playoffs or put them in a play-in position is further evidence. But that was then, and the playoffs are now.

Mostly Young, Scrappy, But Rather Inexperienced

Sans Caruso, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević, the playoffs are an untraveled road for much of the team.

The Bulls’ star player, Zach LaVine, will be playing in his first NBA postseason despite being in the league since 2014. Ayo Dosunmu is a rookie. Patrick Williams might as well be a rookie, having had a compressed rookie season due to the pandemic and just a 17-game regular season this past year due to torn ligaments in his left wrist. Coby White is in his third NBA season, but the Bulls haven’t been a playoff team till now.

The trio of young players are all talented. But they’re also still at the point of their careers where the regular season is a learning experience. They’re developing their games and figuring out who they will be in the league.

So as much potential as there is with this Chicago squad, it’s not enough. It doesn’t give them an advantage against Milwaukee’s talent, depth, and experience. So to think the Bulls will win the series requires a great deal of optimism and hope. This story would have unfolded much differently if they were at full strength. The Bulls would probably be a top-four seed with home-court advantage for at least the first round. But that’s not the case.

The Chicago Spirit: The Way to Postseason Success

The Bulls expressed belief in themselves — as they should. Because if they aren’t going to believe in themselves, why should anyone else? But saying it or showing it are two different things.

The Bulls can determine what kind of learning experience these playoffs will be. Yes, dominant games from both DeRozan and LaVine are essential. Indeed, Vučević making the most of his minutes and being a force to be reckoned with offensively will be crucial. True, shooting well from long range will give the Bulls a greater chance at holding their own.

But their effort is what will make a difference between a poor playoffs return and a glimpse of what’s to come from the Bulls — a more remarkable look into the team’s potential.

Chicago cannot let the Bucks sweep them or concede blowout losses. Instead, the Bulls need to play hard and hustle harder to embody the Chicago spirit. Chicago isn’t a team whose talent comes with ease just by stepping onto the court. Instead, they’re a team whose fight makes them a threat and whose talent elevates their potential. There’s a reason that their defense is what aided in their strong start to the season.

So it’s that Chicago spirit that will fuel them to be smart and play disciplined. This energy will get the home crowd going at the United Center, truly turning it into the Madhouse on Madison.

This spirit will push them even further and fuel aggressive play. Will it be enough for the Bulls to advance? Highly doubtful. But it will give Chicago a chance to make it a competitive series.

About Ashley Wijangco

Ashley is a Filipina American writer and Illinois journalism graduate based in the Chicago suburbs. She has a decade's worth of sports writing experience, having been published in several online publications. She writes about the Bulls, the Sky, and general NBA content for The Lead.

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