It's never a good time for the Chicago Bulls to spend two weeks away from the United Center, but this year's edition of the circus road trip couldn't have come at a worse point in the season.
Chicago will embark on its annual circus voyage, when the circus kicks the team out of town for a few weeks, with just one win in its first four road games. Compare that to a perfect 5-0 mark in their own building and it's easy to see why the Bulls might prefer to send Barnum and Bailey packing this year. That said, the Bulls have actually fared better during the road trip in recent years - making them an intriguing play over that two-week stretch.
Chicago opens this extended away stretch as 1-point road favorites in Denver Thursday night.
Here's a look at how the Bulls have fared on their most recent circus road trips:
2003-04 to 2006-07: 5-20 SU, 11-14 ATS
Chicago was trounced in five straight games in 2003-04 but actually covered in three of the five defeats. The Bulls went 1-6 SU the following year, but only covered three times. The 2005-06 trip saw a decent turnaround - the Bulls went 3-3 SU and ATS - but was followed by a 1-6 trek the next season, a stretch in which the Bulls covered just twice. That included losing by 10 to the L.A. Lakers as a three-point dog, and dropping a 15-point decision in Philadelphia despite being installed as a 1 1/2-point fave.
2007-08 to 2009-10: 5-14 SU, 7-12 ATS
After carrying on the tradition of struggling on the circus trip - going 1-5 SU and ATS in 2007-08 - Chicago fans had high hopes when the Bulls went on to use the first pick in the 2008 draft on standout point guard Derrick Rose. The circus trip results improved - but only barely. The Bulls went 3-4 the following season - while actually finishing 4-3 ATS - but regressed in 2009-10, losing the final five games of the six-game trek while covering just twice. Four of the five defeats were by a margin of 15 points or more.
2010-11 to 2012-12: 6-6 SU, 8-4 ATS
The most recent Bulls seasons don't provide as much value when trying to assess the team's performance during the lengthy trip. For one thing, there was no trek during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season; the schedule didn't kick off until well after Barnum and Bailey had vacated the arena. Additionally, Rose suffered a knee injury at the end of that campaign and sat out all of 2012-13. The results do, however, tell bettors that this edition of the Bulls was far more formidable than in years past. The team went 4-3 SU and 6-1 ATS in 2010-11, and was a ho-hum 2-3 SU and ATS last season.
It's difficult to know how the Bulls are going to perform. But given the steady roster improvement over the past few seasons, the fact that the roster is relatively healthy and that Rose continues to show improvement in his recovery from major knee surgery, Chicago should be a difficult opponent for all six teams it faces on its annual circus road trip. And you certainly couldn't have said that nine or 10 years ago.