Forgive Bulls center Ben Wallace if he's not the biggest fan of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. No, he doesn't have anything against elephants, clowns and high-wire acts (after all, the NBA has featured such characters as Oliver Miller, Dennis Rodman and Dominique Wilkins). It's just that Chicago has just started a seven-game road trip, courtesy of the circus invading the United Center.
"We're not going to let the trip intimidate us," said Wallace, whose Bulls must literally travel across the country (starting in Texas, making their way to Los Angeles, then ending in New York) during the grueling 12-day excursion.
The Bulls can only hope Big Ben delivers on his promise, although a 111-99 loss in Dallas on Tuesday is an ominous beginning. In the past, the annual "circus" trip has been a killer for Chicago -- sort of like the NBA's version of Hannibal crossing the Alps or the Bataan Death March. In the past seven seasons, the Bulls have gone 4-41 on the trip, including a 37-game losing streak from 1999-2005.
It was for just such difficult situations that Bulls GM John Paxson went out and signed Wallace to a $60 million free-agent contract last offseason. With the reigning Defensive Player of the Year added to their talented young core, the Bulls hope to have the toughness to handle jet lag, hostile crowds and perhaps some less-than-favorable treatment from the referees. But few teams fare well on extended road trips such as the one facing the Bulls this week, so Chicago should brace for the worst.
Of course, the Bulls are hardly alone. Six clubs face road trips of seven or more games this season. (Chicago actually has two such jaunts, with the second coming in late January/early February). Two teams -- the Spurs and Lakers -- will play eight straight on the road.
Here's SI.com's list of the NBA's 10 toughest road trips this season ranked in order of difficulty (a * denotes second night of back-to-back games):
Dates: Jan. 28-Feb. 14 (eight games in 18 days) Opponents: LAL, UTA, PHO*, WAS, ORL, MIA, NJ, DET* Playoff teams from last season: 6 The skinny: This annual trip, courtesy of the rodeo invading the AT&T Center, is the longest in duration and toughest in terms of competition. The Spurs will need the All-Star break, which follows the conclusion of the trip, just to get reacquainted with their families.
Dates: Jan. 30-Feb. 11 (eight games in 13 days) Opponents: NY, BOS*, IND, WAS*, ATL, DET, TOR*, CLE Playoff teams from a year ago: 4 The skinny: Thanks in part to the Grammys being held at Staples Center, the Lakers will head East on their longest trip in 16 years. Three sets of back-to-backs, with the finales coming against the fast-paced Celtics, Wizards and Raptors, figure to test the Zen calm of coach Phil Jackson.
Dates: Nov. 14-Nov. 25 (seven games in 12 days) Opponents: DAL, HOU, SA*, LAL, DEN, PHI, NY* Playoff teams from a year ago: 4 The skinny: The Bulls will take a break in the middle to return home for Thanksgiving dinner, but they might not feel much like eating. After such a brutal recent history on their circus trip, last season's 3-3 mark was a major breakthrough for Scott Skiles' young team.