At first, I tried to make sense of it. The frigid Chicago air. Tom Thibodeau’s grinding defenses. Then the Chicago Bulls won their 20th straight home game on TNT, and I realized the biggest mistake you can make right now is trying to explain the inexplicable. (It’s a gambling scandal, right? It has to be a gambling scandal.)
The Bulls have been something of a circus since last summer. First they were trading Jimmy Butler, then they weren’t. First they were rebuilding, then they were signing aging veterans. First Fred Hoiberg was going to modernize the offense after he replaced Thibodeau, then those aging veterans weren’t really fit for that style of basketball.
In the face of all these obstacles, the TNT Bulls—one of the greatest forces in NBA history—have stood firm. Chicago hasn't lost a home game on TNT since February 2013, when the Miami Heat’s Big Three cruised to an 86–67 victory. (The Bulls’ leading scorer that night was Nate Robinson)
What’s incredible about this stretch is, inherently, these national TV games are typically not cupcake matchups. During the 20-game streak, the Bulls have defeated LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s Heat, LeBron’s Cavs, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s Thunder, Stephen Curry’s Warriors and Tim Duncan’s Spurs, among others. Some of those teams have taken multiple Ls. And while the Bulls have been a feisty bunch for most of this decade, they haven’t really reached the heights of any of those teams for this kind of streak to make sense.
The only question left to ask: Who couldn’t the TNT Bulls beat? Would the ’96 Bulls have won only 71 games if they had to face Rajon Rondo and Paul Zipser on a Thursday night? Would Kevin Durant have signed with the TNT Bulls if they had asked for a meeting with him last July?
Thursday’s win over the spiraling Cavaliers was actually an important one for Chicago, who moved within one game of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. The Bulls have managed to stay afloat despite Dwyane Wade’s elbow injury and the jettisoning of Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott. Rondo has looked frisky of late, and Zipser-Nikola Mirotic-Robin Lopez frontcourt is actually kind of gelling.
With the TNT streak in full force, Adam Silver could have a tough decision on his hands once the playoffs begin. Can you put the Bulls on TNT and give them an unfair advantage in the postseason? Or do you risk angering LeBron by making him play on NBA TV in a potential first-round matchup, even if that’s probably the better option for his team? I definitely don’t envy the schedule makers when it comes to this one.
Of course, all streaks are meant to be broken. One day, we’ll be talking about the TNT Bulls in the past tense, a torrid affair that came into our lives, wrecked our hearts and left before we could say goodbye. Until then, every few Thursday nights we’ll sit down in front of our TVs, watch the last few minutes of Bones, listen to Marv Albert and/or Kevin Harlan read a promo for Animal Kingdom, and watch a high-powered team lose in Chicago. In these uncertain times, at least we have the TNT Bulls.