Sam Smith previews the Bulls 2019-20 Season
It may feel like the 1990s again when the Bulls open the 2019-20 NBA season. Michael Jordan is going to be there—well, probably—and there's a good chance the Bulls can start with a victory. And perhaps enough of them to get a nice head start on the season.
The NBA Monday revealed the schedule for the 2019-20 season that begins Oct. 22 with defending champion Toronto playing New Orleans and much-promoted rookie No. 1 selection Zion Williamson. The Lakers with LeBron James and Anthony Davis and the Clippers with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George then play in the second nationally televised game.
The Bulls Oct. 23 begin their season that will feature the NBA All-Star game coming to Chicago for a third time Feb. 16 and hopefully a return to the playoffs for the first time in three years. The schedule gives the Bulls a chance for a kick start on that goal with five of the first six games and seven of the first 11 against teams not generally regarded as prime playoff possibilities.
The Bulls do play six of their first nine games on the road. But the potential level of competition gives the Bulls their first chance—assuming good health—for a fast start since their last playoff season in 2016-17.
The Bulls open the season on the road Wednesday Oct. 23 against Jordan's Charlotte Hornets, who lost All-Star free agent Kemba Walker to the Boston Celtics. Then the Bulls Oct. 25 go to Memphis, which moved on from Marc Gasol and Mike Conley and now heralds rookie point guard Ja Morant.
The Bulls then play their home opener Saturday Oct. 26 against 2019 NBA champion Toronto, which lost All-Star Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers. Then the Bulls are back on the road, but to the Knicks and Cleveland, both teams not expected to be in contention for a playoff spot. Then it's back home Nov. 1 to face the Detroit Pistons with former Bulls star Derrick Rose, making it six games to open the season in which the Bulls should have serious opportunities for success.
Especially with the addition of veterans like Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky to support the young core of players like Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, who hope to enhance their play and make a bid to become All-Stars playing before the home fans in February.
The Bulls then go to Indiana for the return of the popular Young and then host the first home marquee game of the season Tuesday Nov. 5 against LeBron and the Lakers.
The Bulls will play 12 back to back sets this season after playing 14 last season. The longest road trip of the season, to the Western Conference, will be a rare late season road trip into April that concludes with games against the Lakers and Clippers. The Bulls then have just three games remaining with the regular season close April 15 in Boston.
The Bulls will play an afternoon game in Milwaukee on Martin Luther King Day Jan. 20 and will not play on the NBA's featured Christmas Day for the second consecutive season. The Bulls for now are scheduled for one ESPN national TV game, January 17 in Philadelphia.
The 76ers are generally considered the favorites in the Eastern Conference in what is expected to be a three-team race with the Bucks and Celtics.
Though the Bulls won just 22 games last season, it could be an aberration considering the many injuries and then substitutions with G-league and undrafted players.
After the top three teams in the Eastern Conference and perhaps Toronto and Indiana with the return of Victor Oladipo, the last three playoff spots could be wide open among Brooklyn—with Kyrie Irving, but without injured Kevin Durant—Miami, Orlando, Detroit, Atlanta and the Bulls.
The Western Conference is a snow globe this season with the free agency signings and trades that had Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Anthony Davis, Mike Conley, Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard changing teams along with the additions of featured rookies Williamson and Morant. And for the first time in five years a season begins without the Golden State Warriors being feared, admired and assumed to be future champions. Stephen Curry remains and D'Angelo Russell joins him in a backcourt of chukkers. But Durant recovers from his Achilles injury as a member of the Brooklyn Nets and Klay Thompson won't return from a knee injury until at least late in the season. The Warriors retained Draymond Green with an extension and still figure to be formidable, if not invincible.
Here's a look at the top 10 Bulls home games of the season:
Feb. 16. Everyone Who's Really Famous
The All-Star game returns to Chicago for just the third time in its history and first time since 1988 when Michael Jordan effectively claimed the title as the face of the NBA by winning the slam dunk contest with his iconic free throw line dunk and the highly contested game with 40 points. With the preliminary shooting and dunking contests and a week of activities, the All-Star week has become one of the major spectacles in American sports. The only other time the game was in Chicago, also at the old Chicago Stadium like in 1988, was 1973 when the Bulls were in the Western Conference. Bulls high scoring forwards Bob Love, who currently is an ambassador for the team, and Chet Walker were All-Stars. Back then in the tradition of a game that was as seriously contested as the Finals because of the prize money for participants, the East team won 104-84. Jordan's East team with vanquished slam dunk competitor Dominique Wilkins adding 29 points won 138-133 in 1988. Chicagoans Isiah Thomas, Mo Cheeks and Doc Rivers also played for that 1988 East team.
Nov. 5. Los Angeles Lakers.
LeBron's coming off his first losing season since his rookie year in 2003-04 and for his Lakers the sixth consecutive season missing the playoffs after the franchise had missed the playoffs just five times in more than 60 years. But LeBron still is the face of the NBA, and now has perhaps his best ever running mate—other than Dwyane Wad—in Anthony Davis. You know despite the changes with the Clippers, Rockets and Warriors, LeBron still with be the ESPN lead story. And now the LeBron with the chip on his shoulder to defy the critics narrative. Almost forgot, DeMarcus Cousins, too, and Rajon Rondo. Showtime, baby!
Dec. 14. Los Angeles Clippers.
The Bulls get a second first half look at the other half of the NBA story even if many project the Rockets for most wins in the Western Conference. The Staples Center tenants will be the feature from opening night now that the Clippers have two-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who led the most unlikely Toronto team to a title, with the unexpected addition of the guy who once always wanted to be a Sooner for life, Paul George. The Clippers may be the best defensive team in years with Leonard, George, Chicagoan Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell. And they also have legendary sixth man Lou Williams to claim perhaps best in LeBron's building.
Nov. 9. Houston Rockets.
It's a front loaded Bulls star schedule for the home fans with dueling MVPs James Harden and Russell Westbrook reunited. There's no way this can work, which we did say about Harden and Chris Paul, who probably were a hamstring away from a title two years ago. The back to back MVPs were teammates in Oklahoma City, though when Harden was a reserve and more a facilitator. Now they are two of the highest scoring and most ball dominant players in the NBA, if not of all time. Though that's hardly all with Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, P.J. Tucker and longtime ago Bull Tyson Chandler signing on for another chance at a title.
Feb. 6. New Orleans Pelicans.
We hope the Pelicans haven't by then shut down Zion Williamson for the season. Already they seem to be treating the prominent rookie like a Faberge egg, fearing the slightest movement of his amazingly explosive frame. If LeBron is the face of the NBA, in many ways Zion could be the story in joining most of the Lakers young roster from the last few seasons from the Anthony Davis trade and a bounty of future draft picks. Zion's dunking could even upstage LeBron on SportsCenter. The Bulls get a Big Easy preview of Zion in New Orleans Jan. 8 after a stop in Dallas Jan. 6 to see Kristaps Porzingis, Luka Doncic and Boban Marjanovic as Texas, of all places, becomes basketball without borders.
Dec. 6. Golden State Warriors.
The run perhaps is merely just taking a sabbatical. Kevin Durant has moved on and Klay Thompson moved into rehab. So it will be interesting to see who and how many begin to exact some revenge from the last five years of beatings. If anyone owes them it's the Bulls, who lost to the Warriors by just 37 and 25 last season, which was an improvement from a 49 pointer the previous season. You wouldn't want to dismiss them quite yet as they added All-Star D'Angelo Russell to join the indomitable Curry along with the Kings' Willie Cauley-Stein. And Draymond Green gets a lot more shots.
Nov 20/22. Detroit Pistons/Miami Heat.
It's two straight featuring the guys who were once supposed to be the Bulls foundation in Detroit's Derrick Rose and Miami's Jimmy Butler. Rose signed as a free agent with the Pistons after resuscitating his career with the Minnesota Timberwolves the last two seasons. Rose last season averaged 18 points with a 50-point game and shot 37 percent on threes as a former MVP in the running for Most Improved. Butler joins his seventh team since being traded by the Bulls. Actually, it's his third. And while he's not likely in title consideration anymore, it's difficult to argue with his choice. Championships are nice, but they depend an awful lot on luck and, as Blanche DuBois said, the kindness of strangers. Jimmy moves on from Minnesota and Philadelphia, winter coats and slush with a maximum contract and a chance to live in South Beach all winter. He appears to have done well.
Dec. 4. Memphis Grizzlies.
It's been awhile since they were must see. Well, like never. Grit and grind wasn't exactly aesthetically appealing. But rookie Temetrius "Ja" Morant could be. The Murray State point guard flashes potential excitement and exceptional abilities as many have predicted he'll have a more productive career than Williamson. Though not considered as talented a draft class as in 2018, the 2019 class appears to have some potential stars, whom the Bulls hope includes point guard Coby White. The Bulls point guard position is one of the big questions heading into the season, but the future appears to be with White. He didn't get a chance in Summer League to face Morant or Darius Garland, the other top point guards with Garland going to Cleveland. They'll all be watched closely along with the Knicks R.J. Barrett.
Dec. 11. Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks are another team, along with the Bulls, considered to have among the most promising young cores of players. Does Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish rival Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White? These two teams will be looked upon as rivals to make a move during these next two seasons. The Bulls are in Atlanta, the site of last season's infamous four-overtime game, earlier in the season on Nov. 6.
Jan. 4. Boston Celtics.
So was Kyrie the problem or the missing piece? That often will be discussed this season with the East top heavy with Boston, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Brooklyn and Indiana can perhaps make it a five-team race—it's difficult to see the defending champions without Kawhi and long gone DeMar—but the East doesn't appear as wide open as the Western Conference. Boston sacrificed Irving for Kemba Walker and lost Al Horford to the 76ers. Which likely makes the 76ers (on paper, or screen) the favorites with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson from the Jimmy Butler transaction. Horford now gets to be a power forward, which he's always said he is. Though Embiid likes to shoot and Simmons really can't. Giannis returns as reigning MVP, though with some deck shuffling that raises questions about another 60-win season. And Giannis seemed to get exposed some in the playoffs for his lack of shooting. The Bulls are in Milwaukee Nov. 14 and face Philadelphia at home just once this season, and not until late March. Which the Bulls hope will be the stretch run for the playoffs. Just a little over two months until they're back. And, by the way, the Bulls travel 39,288 miles this season, which is almost good enough for Premier Gold. The Bulls hope to add some miles in late April and May this time and upgrade.