OT. Against the Raptors. Really?
This is where we are with the Bulls. A team that in one game can be pushed to the limit by a team with the sixth-worst record in the league (Raptors), then in another game defeat (up by 25 at one point) a team with one of the best records in the league (Knicks), then turn around and shoot 36 percent from the field (18 percent from 3) and lose to a team that is one player away from being sent to the D-League (Suns), and then the next game hold a playoff-bound team to 58 points in a 39-point rout (Hawks).
The Bulls can be the team that discontinues another team's 18-game losing streak (Bobcats) and at the same time be the team that the defending champs (Heat) can't find a way to defeat.
There is a definite heaven/hell with this team that makes it difficult to know if it's safe to go all-in with them. The fact that if the playoffs began today the Bulls would be a No. 4 seed is impressive, even seductive. But the fact that they allowed a team like the New Orleans Hornets to beat them without their best player (Anthony Davis) is a reality check that keeps most people in fiancé-mode with them as opposed to planning a honeymoon.
Which team is going to show up against Boston on Friday night? Which team will show up against Memphis on Saturday? Which team will the Lakers see on Monday?
The hardest question to answer around the city, now that the Bears have officially hired a new head coach, is this: Are the Bulls actual title contenders once Derrick Rose comes back?
The honest answer: We don't know. No one does. Not even the Bulls. The 37-game sample they've provided is inconclusive at best. They've become a team easy to love, hard to watch, and harder to have unconditional faith in.
But not impossible to believe in. Just last week former Bull Steve Kerr commented on how he liked where the Bulls stood. "They have had some rough patches, which is to be expected," Kerr told reporters recently. "But they have been able to tread water, which is the main thing. If they can continue to do that and Rose comes back, whenever that is, and it gives them that boost, they're in a good spot."
But "a good spot" is not the phrase of conviction a team battling for a crown wants to hear. Especially when the team ahead of them in the playoff race is in a "better spot" while missing their own "Derrick Rose."
And anyone who thinks the Indiana Pacers' loss of Danny Granger isn't equivalent to the Bulls' loss of Rose is lying to himself. If the Bulls are title contenders when Rose returns, what are the Pacers once Granger returns?
Coach Tom Thibodeau said once, "Usually with this team, when we practice well we play well." Well, what has translated from practice-to-the court in some games has been like Charlie Sheen circa 2011 one night ... and Charlie Sheen circa 2011 the next.
Here's the enigma in the form of a question where the closest thing to an answer can be found: How can the same team that has beaten the Knicks three times this season and has the best road record (11-5) in the East be a quasi-.500 team (11-10) at home?
With a worse home record than the Lakers. With a worse home record than the Sacramento Kings. But still we want to believe.
At the center of all greatness is consistency. The two go hand-in-hand -- can't truly have one without the other. The Bulls are a very good team (at times) with the potential to be great once Rose returns. But the major concern is -- even once Rose returns -- whether they'll become consistent.
After the loss to Phoenix, Joakim Noah spoke about one of those practices that ended up transitioning itself into the performance of the season the following game when the Bulls beat the Hawks by almost 40.
"It's not fun to be screamed at at 9 o'clock in the morning," he said. "A lot of f-bombs. A lot of f-bombs."
Anger: the instigator of greatness.
If the Bulls prove to be serious about making a run for the NBA title once their roster is back to being at full strength, there's only so far Thibs' f-bombs are going to take them. He can't do that every practice and expect (or get) the same results.
At some point until Rose comes back, the Bulls need to beat the teams they are supposed to beat and lose only to the teams that are better than them.
Then once Rose returns and they find their end-of-the-season/playoff-bound/this-is-what-title-contenders-do-groove, they hopefully will win the games they are supposed to win and the ones they aren't supposed to win.
Once that happens, then we'll have our answer. Then we'll know.