How Far Can the Bulls Go?
*Photo via USA Today
For the past few seasons the hopes of Chicago fans have been toyed with. Every season they are caught in limbo, between expecting to contend for a title, or a “next year” is our year mind set. Hopes were set high after a run to the Conference Finals in 2011, a season that saw Derrick Rose win the MVP and Tom Thibodeau win Coach of the Year. How could they not be optimistic coming off that season, but we all know the situation the Bulls have become, where it is rare to see Rose on the floor, and when he is it is not at the MVP level, and other players have caught the injury bug in recent years as well. Yet every year there is hope that this can be the year the Bulls stay healthy and make it to the Finals for the first time since “His Airness” walked off the court in 1998, and every year it is the same story, the Bulls are plagued by injuries all season, and overachieve in the playoffs for as long as they can.
This year’s optimism has been far greater than years past with Derrick Rose presumed to have felt the best he had in years, along with the signing of Pau Gasol. While Rose has been able to play 46 games so far this season, the most since that MVP season, he is once again injured. However there is real optimism that he can be back for a playoff run, as the Bulls are saying he will play before the regular season ends. That sounds great, and I hope for Derrick, the Bulls, and the league’s sake he does come back, and performs well without any other setbacks, but as we know far too well that is just wishful thinking. So in a likely scenario Rose is injured for part of the playoffs can the Bulls still compete for the title?
I’m high on the Bulls and I believe that if Rose can play a productive 30-38 minutes a night they would be my pick to win the East, because he doesn’t have to do it all himself anymore. However without him it is a tougher road to the finals for Chicago. In the event Rose goes down I think the Bulls are more equip to survive without him then in years past because this is the best talent they’ve had since Rose has been here. Pau Gasol has revived his career in Chicago and has Finals experience, Jimmy Butler is now a proven 20 point scorer in this league, and not many players in the NBA have been hotter than Nikola Mirotic, who has taken advantage of getting more minutes, averaging close to 21 points in March, and making a case for Rookie of the Year. Also the top of the East is not as strong as years past, when it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the Heat were going to win the East. The Cavs aren’t as tough physically or mentally as the Bulls, and I can see that being a problem. The jury is still out on the Atlanta Hawks, and if they can win in the playoffs my money is they can, but I can see Thibodeau making defensive adjustments in a seven game series to counter the Hawks ball movement.
I believe Chicago’s title aspirations rely on the health of Derrick Rose, there is a slim chance the Bulls could win without Rose, but I’d give the odds to Cleveland or Atlanta. While he didn’t wow anyone with his play this year averaging 18.4 points per game on 40 percent shooting with five assists, the numbers don’t lie, the Bulls are 29-17 with him and 17-12 without him this year. I believe that just his presence in the lineup gives the Bulls extra confidence, and like I said before he doesn’t have to carry the load offensively with Butler and Gasol’s level of play this year, along with the emergence of Mirotic. Watch out for the Bulls this postseason, even without Rose you know the Bulls are going to compete their tails off, and while it’s unlikely they can beat the Cavs or Hawks without him there is no doubt the Bulls will give them a series.