Daily Herald
Sprint to the finish nothing new for Bulls
By Mike McGraw | Columnist
Published: 3/21/2010 9:20 PM

Bulls game day

Bulls vs. Houston Rockets at the United Center, 7 p.m.

TV: Channel 26

Radio: WMVP 1000-AM

Update: The Rockets (36-32) have won five of six since getting Trevor Ariza and Kyle Lowry back from injuries March 9. Former Kings shooting guard Kevin Martin is averaging 22.5 points in 14 games since joining Houston. PG Aaron Brooks (20.0 ppg) appears headed for the most improved player award. The Bulls won the first meeting 104-97 on Jan. 23 with center Brad Miller scoring a season-high 25 points in place of the injured Joakim Noah.

Next: Thursday vs. Miami Heat at the United Center, 7 p.m.

Last year when it was suggested the Bulls had a soft finishing schedule, TNT analyst Jeff Van Gundy told his audience there is no such thing as a soft schedule to a team that's struggling.

Well, the Bulls finished the season by going 12-4 in the final 16 games and made the playoffs. So yes, there is such a thing as an easy schedule.

This year the biggest reason the Bulls came out of the all-star break winning six of eight games was weak opponents. They turned around and lost 10 in a row because the schedule got tougher. Then it was no coincidence the losing streak ended in Philadelphia, which has lost 12 of its last 14.

Despite all the ups and downs, the Bulls do have a chance to make a late playoff push, which would be their third in five years.

In 2006 they were 10 games under .500 on March 22 and went 12-2 the rest of the way to reach the postseason.

The schedule does cooperate. The Bulls will play eight of their final 13 games at home. The road games start in Detroit, Washington, New Jersey - three teams well off the pace - then finish against the two teams just ahead of them in the standings, Toronto and Charlotte.

This week will provide a nice test of the Bulls' playoff potential. They have three home games against Houston, Miami and New Jersey, then visit the Pistons on Sunday.

"We've just got to take it one game at a time, stay focused, understand that there's nothing easy in this league," center Joakim Noah said after Saturday's win in Philly. "Anybody can win on any given day. It's all about staying focused being mentally prepared."

Noah feels fine: Obviously, a late charge by the Bulls will be much easier if Joakim Noah can make it through these final 13 games.

He returned to the court sooner than expected Saturday against the 76ers and played an energetic nine minutes. He finished with 7 points, 4 rebounds and went to the foul line eight times.

Earlier this month, the Bulls planned to shut down Noah for three weeks because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot, but he returned four days earlier than scheduled.

"My foot felt great; my lungs felt terrible," Noah said Saturday, according to Comcast SportsNet Chicago. "I have no pain in my foot, so that's very good and we don't have any back-to-backs coming up. So I think the more I play, the more comfortable I'm going to be out there.

"Last week was hard because I felt that I could play, but we had four games in five nights and I remember (trainer) Fred (Tedeschi) telling me two weeks back that this was going to be a stretch that was going to be hard for me because I would feel like I'm ready to come back."

Law of the land: After Bulls guard Acie Law scored 40 points in consecutive games against Memphis and Dallas last week, I asked a couple of scouts for their thoughts on the No. 11 draft pick in 2007.

Law has an amazing knack for getting into the lane and finishing at the basket, but he's been with four teams in less than three seasons and just hasn't played much. Even after the two big games for the Bulls, Law logged a total of 14 minutes in the next two contests.

One scout felt Law's biggest weakness was his long-range shooting. He's not enough of a threat to make opponents switch on pick-and-rolls.

Both scouts felt Law is a pretty good on-the-ball defender but mentioned that he tends to get lost away from the ball and his intensity fades in and out.

The verdicts ranged from not good enough to be a starting point guard to a solid player who hasn't gotten a chance.

The Bulls aren't in the market for a starting point guard, but Law might bring a unique scoring punch off the bench if he sticks around next year.