Is their momentum real or a mirage? Bulls will find out in difficult two-game stretch

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CHICAGO, USA - DECEMBER 20: Denzel Valentine (45) of Orlando Magic during an NBA basketball match between Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic at United Center in Chicago, Illinois, United States on December 20, 2017. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

CHICAGO – Confidence is a good thing, really. A sense of self-worth, both as an athlete and a team, is something that’s healthy and often is a catalyst to success.

Denzel Valentine had no shortage of that on Wednesday night – and he had reason to feel good about his team and himself.

The Bulls crushed the Magic 112-94 at the United Center, running their unprecedented win streak to seven and the forward had 16 points off the bench. In two weeks the team has gone from losing ten-straight games to nearly making all of those losses back up, so naturally Valentine was confident about the group when asked about their upcoming stretch on the road.

“I think we’re one of the better teams in the East,” said Valentine when asked is he is excited about the upcoming stretch against the Cavaliers and Celtics on the road. “With that being said, it should be a true challenge, it will be a legitimate challenge to see where we’re at. Two tough games on the road, hostile environments, so we’ll see what we’re made of.”

Whether the Bulls are one of the better teams in the East will be met with a lot of skepticism, but the last part of his statement is not.

After winning seven games-in-a-row, a number of them against struggling teams, the Bulls will have their streak tested against defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland on Thursday night and then current East leader Boston on Saturday. If the Bulls want to back up any talk of themselves being a legit factor in their first year of rebuilding, this would be the time to show it.

“It cannot stop now,” said Nikola Mirotic, whose 19.6 points and 7.7 rebounds the last seven games has been a critical catalyst to the win streak. “I know we have a tough schedule, two games on the road, but if we continue to play with this level of competing, I’m sure we’re going to have other options. Just playing simple.”

Right now if that’s working, they should stick with it. Frankly, it has the last week with the Bulls showing an incredible on-court chemistry that starts with the two players who fought in the preseason. Mirotic and Portis’ strong play were on display on as the pair combined for 29 points and 15 rebounds off the bench. The Bulls also dished out 31 assists in a game which they were never truly threatened, making for a somewhat joyous pre-holiday crowd at the United Center.

But the Cavaliers and Celtics are much different from the Jazz, Sixers, and Magic. After a few hiccups to start the year, Cleveland is 18-2 in their last 20 games while the Celtics have remained on top of the Eastern Conference with a 26-8 record.

“Just try to go out there and compete at a high level,” said forward Bobby Portis of facing the two teams at the top of the Eastern Conference. “Keep doing the things that we’ve been doing well which is sharing the ball, playing defense at a high level. Go out there and play as hard as we can, night in and night out.

“I feel like if our team can do that, I’m happy for us, and hopefully we can win.”

While keeping the most unforeseen winning streak alive as the New Year approaches.