The Chicago Bulls have been one of the more surprising teams in the NBA this season, flipping the script on almost everything that was expected from them. The wins and losses don’t come out to anything radically different than what most predicted, but the way they’re doing it is radically different than what anyone but the most clairvoyant analyst could have seen coming. Last year, they had one of the best home records in the league at 27-14, and they did it on the back of the league’s 2nd best Defensive Rating, despite having the 28th Offensive Rating.1 In 2014-15, they aren’t terrible on defense, but they have fallen to 13th in the league, but the wins have still come thanks to moving to 9th in Offensive Rating. But what’s really surprising is the rather mediocre home record, as the team sits at 13-11 in Chicago.
January was especially unkind in the Madhouse on Madison as the Bulls went 2-4 at home. The only wins came against the Bucks and the Spurs, which while those are quality wins, the losses are much more glaring. Getting beat by the Hawks and Wizards can happen to anyone anywhere, but a team that is supposed to be contending for the East’s top spot shouldn’t be dropping home games to the Magic, and they certainly shouldn’t be letting recent D-League signees swat 12 shots in 24 minutes.
Of teams above .500 in the league, there’s no one with a worse home record than the Bulls. And it’s really not even close. As of January 26th, the next worst in Phoenix at 13-9. Most of the teams that are considered contenders to win the title have been far, far better at home than Chicago. Take Atlanta at 20-3 or Portland at 20-5. The Warriors lead the way with their 21-1 home record, but I’m going to say they’re the anomaly this year, and definitely not the rule.
It’s hard to know where the Bulls problems really begin. Across the board, most of their offensive numbers are actually a bit better at home. They’re averaging 103.5 points per game as opposed to 99.8.2 They’re shooting 36% from beyond the arc, which isn’t steep of a drop off from the 38% on the road. The rebounding numbers are almost identical, as is the assists to turnover ratio. But there’s still this lethargic haze that can be seen in most of the team’s home games, and that’s really what’s hurting the defense. It’s appeared that they either struggle to turn it on to start the game, or struggle to come out after halftime at full strength, and the result has been insurmountable holes.
The fact that there’s not a definitive statistical explanation for the team’s home record has caused more than one blogger to imply that Tom Thibodeau is on the hot seat. That’s ridiculous. There’s been nothing from either management or the players to indicate that anyone is less than thrilled with the job Thibodeau is doing with this team. Bulls management knows that what matters is postseason success, not the home record in January. If the Bulls lost every home game and still managed to win a title, that championship banner wouldn’t hang any lower than the others. For now, all the problems at home are is a curious thing to consider. Nothing more.
While it’s impossible to nail down a definitive reason for their struggles at home, the Bulls do get to play the next six on the road. While a long road trip would be something to dread for most teams, the Bulls will try to build on their 73% road winning percentage despite matching up with some of the tougher teams in their home gyms. The weakness of the East means the Bulls are still very realistic contenders for a second seed, if not the top seed, but with the way the season has gone so far, they may be better off never having home court advantage come playoff time.