Signs Of Life Spring at the United Center

Sure, it's only one game, but could the Bulls actually be ... good?

Everything we've ever learned about writing sports -- don't be cliche, don't worship the small sample size -- would tell us not to write this lede, but you know what? We're writing it anyway.

Outside the United Center Thursday night, it was the darkest, coldest heart of a Chicago winter. But inside, where the air was warm, a new hope for the Chicago Bulls sprung forth.

God, that was cliche. And we loved every word of it.

Why? Because to be at last night's game, or even to watch it on television, was to see an entirely different Bulls team from the one that went 17-22 in the first few months of the NBA season. That 17-22 team wouldn't have defended LeBron James this well; wouldn't have rotated on defense to make his typically on-point passes difficult to complete; wouldn't have rebounded and outletted the ball to Derrick Rose so efficiently. That 17-22 team wouldn't have run particularly helpful offensive sets -- real, actual offensive plays! Nor would they have rebounded so well on the offensive end, covering for Rose when he missed the occasional crunch-time layup.

Most of all, that Bulls team would have faltered in overtime, relented to LeBron's special brand of uber-power that makes him so difficult to stop. Last night's Bulls did the exact opposite in OT -- for the first time all game, they pulled away.

What makes the difference? Well, the full return of Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich helps; Deng found his shot last night, and having both Rose and Hinrich on the floor, while a liability defensively, proves effective on the offensive end. Rarely do two passers so skilled play combo guard alongside one another.

After all, it was only one game, and everything we know about sports tells us that one game in an 82-game season means very little. But last night's Bulls win was, for Bulls fans, a small glimmer of hope in an otherwise ugly year. That's good enough.

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