On Aug. 10, the NBA schedule dropped like a Kyle Korver 3-point shot (or so we hope). And with it, hoops fans nationwide saw their hopes either rise or fall based on what they found among those shaded calendar boxes.
For fans of the Chicago Bulls, it’s probably safe to say hopes are high. With all due respect to the three-headed circus clown fronting the Miami Heat, as well as the newly Shaq-fortified Boston Celtics, the 2010-11 Bulls are widely expected to be a formidable force in the Eastern Conference. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are another year older, which is a good thing at this point and, at long last, Carlos Boozer brings a scoring threat back to the low post.
So the question is, Bulls fans, which games are you most looking forward to this season? With plenty of drama and story lines to go around, it’s tough to pick just a few. Yet that’s precisely what we’ve done. (We’re fearless that way.) Here are our Top Five Bulls games of the 2010-11 season:
1. Bring On The Heat – Heat @ Bulls, Jan. 15
Hey, you’re still sick of hearing about LeBron and so are we, but there’s no getting around him or his cohorts. The first time the Bulls face off against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Heat, we will all be watching. We will cancel plans. We will throw viewing parties. And we will probably be very tired (or otherwise under the weather) the next day. (It is a Saturday, after all.)
If you’re lucky enough to get tickets for this one, perhaps drink some hot tea beforehand to ensure your boos for LeBron et al. are as loud and deep-throated as humanly possible. And if, for some reason, you miss the game (either in person or on TV), you’ll have two more chances to catch the Chicago vs. Miami showdown — the teams play again at the United Center on Feb. 25 and yet again in Miami on March 6.
2. Game One – Bulls @ Thunder, Oct. 27
Hey, it’s Opening Day. Just as is the case with baseball, this is the game you have to see. All teams enter the game with the same winning percentage and the names you’ve been reading about for weeks are finally on the court to show us what they’ve got — and, for the Bulls, that includes new head coach Tom Thibodeau.
So, um, can someone remind me how Oklahoma got an NBA team again? All right, all right … we probably shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves with the trash talking. The Oklahoma City Thunder won more games than the Bulls last season, going 50-32 — including an impressive 27-14 record at home. OKC also has a young superstar-in-the-making in small forward Kevin Durant, who should match up well with Luol Deng.
(An honorable mention in the "Opening Day" category must go to the Oct. 30, Detroit Pistons @ Bulls home opener, in which the United Center will finally welcome back pro basketball.)
3. Here Comes Hinrich – Wizards @ Bulls, Nov. 13
By and large, Bulls fans didn’t want point guard Kirk Hinrich to go. At the same time, many of us were (temporarily) willing to accept his role as salary-cap sacrificial lamb when there was still a strong possibility that GM Gar Forman was closing in on King James. We all know how that turned out.
So, on this seasonably cool (just guessing) November evening, the United Center will welcome back Kirk, who’s now with the Washington Wizards. Of course, just how we’ll view Hinrich will depend on just how well the team scores in those first couple weeks of games. If new shooting guards Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer are knocking down outside shots with regularity, it’ll be a lot easier to swallow the jettisoning of this low-key, talented and popular player as part of an unsuccessful attempt to lure one of the biggest megalomaniacs in sports history.
(An honorable mention in the "Facing a Former Bull" category must go to the Dec. 18, Los Angeles Clippers @ Bulls game, in which we’ll have our first look at Vinnie Del Negro as the head coach of his new team.)
4. All Those Former Jazz – Bulls @ Jazz, Feb. 9
Boozer, Brewer, Korver. A year ago, those would be the guys we were jeering (at least via our TV sets) in the big, loud EnergySolutions Arena. This year, they’ll be wearing Bulls uniforms on the hardwood during this five-game road trip versus the Western Conference.
Generally, all three were liked by Utah Jazz fans — particularly Korver, who did a lot of charity work in the Salt Lake City community. Boozer and Brewer’s respective injury problems made their losses a little easier for Jazz fans to deal with. In any case, this will be an important homecoming of sorts for three key players in the ’10-’11 Bulls lineup.
5. Holiday Hijinks – Bulls @ Knicks, Dec. 25
As The Pogues once so mellifluously sang:
The boys of the NYPD choir
Were singing "Galway Bay"
And the bells were ringing out
For Christmas day
And so the Bulls themselves will experience their own "Fairytale of New York" when they face off against the New York Knicks on Christmas Day. Expect a lot of festive decorations and pre- and mid-game holiday hoopla. Also look for DRose to dance through the Knicks defense, which is expected to be sub-par again this season. Another important subplot: It’ll be Joakim Noah’s homecoming. He’ll presumably have many friends and family members in attendance.
(An honorable mention in the "Holiday Hoops" category goes to the Dec. 31, New Jersey Nets @ Bulls game, in which we’ll be cheering on the red-and-black as our champagne chills. And, in what’s perhaps a little chilling itself, the Bulls will play the Cleveland Cavaliers a little more than 24 hours later on New Year’s Day. Someone may want to keep an eye on Noah.)