WARR contributor Chris Pennant covers the Chicago Bulls and the NBA
The NBA released the 2018-19 regular season schedule for all teams last Thursday and while one legendary franchise went from national TV afterthought to main showcase team with one sign of a LeBron, the Chicago Bulls (or the #TNTBulls as they’re often known on Thursdays) were told they have to prove themselves quite a bit more.
While the Los Angeles Lakers will lead the league in nationally broadcast games in 2018-19, the Bulls are only slated for three such games entering the season, or about 40 less than the new James crew.
Chicago even plays only once on TNT this year — a painful lack of Shaq’s “barbecue chicken,” Charles’ by-gone love of Joakim Noah and Ernie’s surprisingly hip references from Bulls broadcasts could be at hand after opening night at Philadelphia. Given that the one given TNT game is on the road and not at home, it won’t continue the Bulls’ magical streak of 20 straight TNT games won at home.
But given that this coming season, for the first time in 15 years, the Eastern Conference landscape will lack the colossal shadow cast by LeBron, the Bulls may control their own destiny in changing the way they are perceived by spring of 2019, maybe they could even be battling for one of the last playoff spots by April.
Should that is the case, there are a slew of games on the schedule that will be fun to watch and they could each gain more gravitas as the Bulls’ next campaign unfolds.
Whether you’re in the lower level at United Center, a 300-level denizen the UC or a TV watcher like myself, here’s the games to keep an eye out for this season, separated by the previous criteria and ranked in order of importance.
WORTH SELLING THE KIDS FOR A COURTSIDE SEAT
March 12 vs. Lakers –– I was at a TNA wrestling event a few years ago (coincidentally, the same night as Game 6 of the 2014 Finals). In the midst of the evening, Kurt Angle stalked past me on his way to the ring and I was immediately cowed. I’d grown up seeing him on TV, but in person, he was nothing short of gigantic. There are some people you have to see in person to get the full measure of them, and LeBron James is one of them. Watching him catch lobs in Laker purple and gold from no less a savant than Lonzo Ball? Yeah, mortgage your house now.
December 7 vs. Thunder –– Russell Westbrook might not be of the same awe-inspiring stature as LeBron, but he’s another player that should be appreciated live and up close. Russ savagely imposes his will on the game in a similar fashion to Poohdini those fleeting years ago, and while seeing him attack the basket might bring back sad memories for Bulls fans, it’s still worth seeing in-person if you have the chance. Bonus: Steven Adams is the closest most of us will get to New Zealand other than watching Lord of the Rings. That dude is grizzly.
December 8 vs. Celtics — Not only is this another game featuring an NBA superstar who has to be seen to be believed (Kyrie Irving), the C’s should be the class of the East. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, a recovered Gordon Hayward and Al Horford lead a stacked Boston squad contending for the top spot in the conference. At the worst, fans will get to see a proper coaching job; shout out to Brad Stevens. At best, the young Bulls will challenge a top-tier foe and maybe snatch an early season win from them. Who knows?
December 26 vs. Timberwolves – I will be at this game, hoping to get an autograph from Taj Gibson while I breathlessly tell him how he’s my favorite Bull from the Thibs era. Yes, over Rose, Jimmy and Keith Bogans. Did any of those guys yam on D-Wade or hit a buzzer-beating layup over the Lakers? That’s what I thought. Don’t @ me. BROOKLYN!
GRAB YOUR BINOCULARS AND HEAD TO THE UC
October 29 vs. Warriors — I’m on the fence with this, because Kevin Durant is a generational talent, and I can’t think of anything more fun that screaming at Draymond Green while he screams at everyone else, but this is an early-season game and even though the Bulls seem to give the Dubs a game when they come to Chicago, it’s not more important than those first four. Bring your kids and tell them how the Bulls used to have Golden State’s defensive coach before management ran him out of town in a power play.
November 12 vs. Mavericks — This should be the last trip around the basketbahn for Dirk Nowitzki, and teams should be bring back the full-scale retirement tour for him – unique gifts, a throne, obscenely long standing ovations. Dirk is one of the last players in the NBA who was drafted in the 1990s and his career record speaks for itself. As an added bonus, Luka Doncic could someday become a better player than Dirk, far and away the scoring leader for European NBA players. Who wouldn’t want to be in the building for the passing of the proverbial torch?
January 2 vs. Magic — The New Year’s hangover should have faded by this point and hopefully you have enough money left from the Drake Hotel party to see Mo Bamba, aka the 2018 draft pick everyone wanted. Wendell Carter Jr.’s performance against Bamba could solidify whether he’ll be the pivot player of the future for Chicago or a trade piece down the road.
February 6 vs. Pelicans — It’s really not fair for Anthony Davis. New Orleans looked to have a squad that could surprise in the West. Then Boogie Cousins sold out for the ring, ‘Bron headed west and it seems like the Pelicans are right back where they started. Maybe worse. Anyway, AD is a magical player. Go see him and let him know Chicago appreciates his work. (Same goes for E’Twaun Moore.)
JUST THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE FOR TV
October 18 at Sixers – If it weren’t a Thursday night, this would be on the travel games (see below), but this is not a bad opening night. The Sixers have to prove their playoff appearance last year wasn’t a fluke, and Joel Embiid should be at his trash-talking best in front of a Philly crowd still screaming about their Super Bowl win. Ben Simmons has a statement to make as well, and if the Bulls can keep pace, it’ll be a doozy of a game.
October 31 vs. Nuggets — Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets might move past the Trail Blazers for the Western Conference’s “Team That’s Fun to Watch and Root for, but Doesn’t Have a Chance of Making the Conference Finals.” Jamal Murray and Gary Harris Jr. (sorry, I’ll let everyone grinding their teeth about the Doug McDermott trade finish) are exciting young guards capable of hitting the trey and starting the fast break. If the ticket price is right, bump this one up to the previous section.
January 11 at Warriors — It’s iffy, but Boogie might be back from injury for this one, and, rest games notwithstanding, Golden State should be rounding into playoff shape by then. Steph, Klay, KD, Dray, and Boogie. My word. I think I just fainted.
April 6 vs. Sixers — I know I put two Sixers games on the schedule, but they’ll be a familiar foe going forward, depending on how both teams manage players and the cap, and this could be an important game for playoff positioning. Nothing wrong with spending your Saturday inside here.
FOR THE FREQUENT FLYERS
If you’re one of the fabled people who have enough money to see the Bulls in other cities, keep these games on your calendar:
April 1 at Knicks — Kristaps Porzingis will be back from his ACL and the Knicks will be fighting for the playoffs. Go heckle Knicks fans amidst that iconic “DE-FENSE” chant.
December 4 at Pacers — What better way to celebrate Jay-Z’s birthday than by traveling to Naptown and seeing another Eastern contender? Ticket prices are still cheaper at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on average, and Victor Oladipo is coming off a breakout season. Pacers fans will be rabid for a win against their old rival. You might even cajole the Angry Knicks Fan into coming out.
December 1 at Rockets — If you decide to skip the Monday night game in Indy, get out of the winter weather and watch Carmelo Anthony jab-step the Bulls into oblivion while Chris Paul screams at him from the arc.
Chris Pennant is a Chicago-based sports writer and freelance announcer. In his spare time, he coaches roller derby and searches for good sneakers and good music. Follow him on Twitter @kwandarykitten; Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under “We Are Regal Radio”