Breakdown: ‘The Circus Trip’
Every year the Chicago Bulls embark on a two-week road trip in mid November due to the circus coming to town and taking over the United Center. If the season starts on time this year, a big IF, then the Bulls will once again head out for their two-week ‘Circus Trip’.
This year’s trip consists of eight games away from Chicago, the most since the Michael Jordan era ended. The Bulls have used this trip in the past to gauge where they stand amongst the NBA’s elite teams; this year it will be a little different.
Since the Bulls won their last championship in 1998, they have had 12 circus trips. During that time they have faced an average of four playoff teams during the trip, with at least one of those teams being a legitimate title contender. Teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs routinely end up being opponents during this trip.
This upcoming season however, the Bulls face off against only three teams that made the playoffs last year, and none that made it out of the first round. Of the playoff teams the Bulls will face, the Denver Nuggets had the best record last season at 50-32, the Portland Trail Blazers were 48-34 and the Indiana Pacers, who the Bulls beat in the first round of last year’s playoffs in five games, were 37-45.
History says this will still be a tough test for the Bulls, despite their 62-20 mark last year. Over their last 12 circus trips, the Bulls have come home with a winning record only once, last season when they went 4-3. Their winning percentage since the Jordan era ended is only 18%. Five times they’ve come home without a win and four times they’ve come home with only one win, including Derrick Rose’s second year in the league, 2009-2010, when they went 1-5.
The eight games they will play on this year’s trip is 1.5 more than they normally average, so fatigue has to be an issue. If the lockout shortens training camp and players aren’t working as hard as they should be during the prolonged offseason, eight games away from the United Center could be a disaster.
The Bulls do have several things going for them. They face three Eastern Conference teams, up from an average of only one since 1999, with two of them - the Milwaukee Bucks and Pacers - being division rivals. Last year, the Bulls had the best division record in the NBA, going 15-1 against the Bucks, Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons.
The Bulls also have three sets of back-to-back games during the trip, up from an average of fewer than two. Back-to-back’s weren’t a hindrance to the Bulls last season though; in 23 sets of back-to-back games the Bulls had a winning percentage of 74%, which was in line with their winning percentage on the year.
An eight-game road trip is always a daunting task, but this year’s circus trip could be an opportunity for the Bulls to get off to a hot start and set the pace in the Eastern Conference. If the Bulls can beat lottery teams like the Washington Wizards, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers, and Utah Jazz during the trip, a winning record should be well within reach. If the Bulls finish the trip 5-3 or even 6-2, they will be well on their way to another 60 win season and a deep playoff run.