Is this Bulls team a contender? We'll probably know in a few weeks

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • When the Bulls visit Philadelphia on Wednesday, first place in the Eastern Conference.

    When the Bulls visit Philadelphia on Wednesday, first place in the Eastern Conference. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 11/3/2021 6:33 AM

When the Bulls play at Philadelphia on Wednesday, first place in the Eastern Conference will be at stake.

That's a line that hasn't included the Bulls in several years. Even if it is early November, getting off to a 6-1 start to the season is quite a change.

 

The teams at the top of the East as of Tuesday morning were largely unexpected: Bulls, Miami, New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Toronto, Charlotte.

There are also key players missing from last year's top teams.

Milwaukee has been hammered by injuries early this season. Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez all sat out Tuesday's game in Detroit.

Kyrie Irving hasn't played for Brooklyn because he's refused to get the COVID vaccine, while Philadelphia's Ben Simmons asked for a trade and is now taking a mental health break.

Maybe the biggest sign the Bulls are being taken seriously is Sixers center Joel Embiid took a rest day against Portland on Monday, but plans to play against the Bulls.

Is it conceivable the Bulls could continue their strong start and put together one of the league's best records? Utah and Phoenix finished 1-2 in last year's regular season standings. So yes, it probably could happen.

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Better to wait until the end of November before making any judgments, but the Bulls have shown plenty of good signs, starting with the chemistry clicking right away.

As forecast here during the summer, DeMar DeRozan has been a great fit, providing the type of mentor Zach LaVine has lacked throughout his NBA career. DeRozan is still in peak form, as demonstrated by the 37 points scored against Boston on Monday.

"Just being myself," DeRozan said. "As far as deciding to sign here, that was one thing they emphasized to me, just come be myself. The comfort, the happiness, the joy you see me bring to the court is just me being myself."

The Bulls are among the league's best defensive teams and have done a nice job of overcoming one of the roster's obvious flaws, a lack of height. At power forward, the Bulls are starting 6-4 Javonte Green, finishing with 6-4 Alex Caruso and in between, used 6-5 Derrick Jones Jr. on Monday.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But they've caused some havoc by harassing teams on the perimeter and creating turnovers, while keeping everyone involved with the rebounding, for the most part.

"We've made a huge emphasis that we've got to scramble and help each other," coach Billy Donovan said. "I've always said, a lot of times the offense has a lot to do with how much the ball is being turned over. But we're going to have to be able to do a better job rebounding."

The Bulls are also developing some depth. They went from using Troy Brown Jr. and Alize Johnson off the bench to Jones and Tony Bradley, and have so far made up for losing Patrick Williams to a wrist injury.

When Coby White returns, it should help to have a scorer ready to come off the bench. But rookie Ayo Dosunmu did a great job of playing that role in Boston, with 14 points. The Illini grad and Chicago native drew some nice praise from DeRozan after the game.

"The humbleness that he carries himself with, along with the toughness, is definitely one of a kind," DeRozan said. "He's definitely the epitome of a Chicago kid. When you throw him out there on the road, he does something like this, it just shows who he is as a basketball player."

And it's up to the Bulls to keep showing who they are as a team. The next two games are against the Sixers, followed by Brooklyn on Monday.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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