Commentary

Back on the (band) wagon

Rose's return to health a factor in improved play

Updated: January 31, 2010, 9:53 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

It is believed P.T. Barnum originated the bandwagon, which was the mode of transportation for his circus bands in the 19th century. Years later, politicians began using them for campaign purposes and soon after, Teddy Roosevelt coined the phrase "jumping aboard the bandwagon."

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty ImagesJoakim Noah said an "us against the world" mentality brought the Bulls closer together on their recent road trip.

No record of when people first started jumping off bandwagons, but it's thought to be around the same time "Us against the world" was popularized, which is the mindset Bulls center Joakim Noah said the Bulls utilized on their recent West Coast road swing.

"We definitely had that mentality, and it brings you closer together," Noah explained of the recently completed 5-2 trip, the final five games shockingly setting an NBA record for consecutive road victories over teams with winning records.

But before deciding whether to jump on the Bulls' bandwagon, I decided it was best to find out how specifically the team has managed to pull it together scarcely a month after petitions formed to rename the United Center for the Blackhawks and evict the Bulls.

Leaving town apparently helped. Beyond that, said the Bulls' newly minted All-Star guard Derrick Rose, "I don't know where it came from, to tell you the truth. It was something that just happened."

Noah echoed these sentiments, which doesn't instill a whole lot of confidence running alongside the bandwagon.

Digging a bit deeper and having occasionally stayed awake long enough to watch, the Bulls' success on the trip and over the past 18 games -- in which they have gone 13-5 -- can be attributed largely to what coach Vinny Del Negro has been saying all along.

His team needed to get healthy, beginning with Rose's recovery from an ankle injury that kept him out of training camp and didn't allow him to play to his potential until December. On this recent trip, the first two losses to Golden State and the Clippers could be largely attributed to the flu bug that claimed Kirk Hinrich and John Salmons.

"You never want to make excuses, but there's no secret to how you win," Del Negro said. "You need players. The guys understand that. We've had better practices because we've had more players, and that has enabled us to execute our plan a little better with fresher bodies."

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Layne Murdoch/Getty ImagesOne of the big factors in the Bulls resurgence is the return to health of Bulls guard Derrick Rose.

When the Bulls were losing by 32 points to Toronto and 35 points to Atlanta, we often heard things like, "We have to focus. We're just not playing hard. We're not playing as a team." And the ever-popular "We don't know what's going on with us."

Now that the Bulls seem to be focused, playing harder and playing as a team, Rose offered some interesting insight when asked what makes him believe they can keep up their recent level of play.

"Our biggest thing is just practicing," he said. "The veterans on the team are doing a good job on the road of making sure everyone is focused, everyone is on time for the bus. Those things play a big factor on the road when people are on the same page, so we've been pulling it together."

Making sure everyone is on time for the bus?

And there were a few other things Rose said when it was pointed out that the Bulls barely practiced on the road.

"We had walk-throughs," he explained. "Usually you have three or four people shooting at the walk-through, but on the road you have the whole team out there shooting, and the coaches have to wait for us to get done."

Sure, the Bulls are also playing much better defense, moving the ball better and have better depth. But Del Negro also says his young players have more confidence now because he allowed them to play through their mistakes, even when mistakes beat them.

"It takes time, it takes patience, and people in this business don't have a lot of patience," he said when asked about his earlier "issues," a code word for "that time when we all wanted you to be fired."

"You're judged on your performance today and by wins and losses," Del Negro said, "and no one cares who's injured and what your schedule is and what your practice schedule is."

OK, point taken. But on Sunday, there was Rose once again taking extra shooting practice with Randy Brown after everyone else was gone.

Maybe they should consider taking a bus to home games. Or there's always the bandwagon. I hear there are still plenty of open seats.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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