CHICAGO, May 2, 2012 — Derrick Rose’s ACL tear in Saturday’s game may have been the most tragic injury of the season, ignoring my obvious hometown bias. Rarely does a player ever work as hard as Rose with that level of sportsmanship and good character, and no one in the league was happy to see him go down.
That being said, purely from a basketball standpoint, the Chicago Bulls are certainly in trouble. They were considered to be the underdogs in a potential Miami series; now most analysts can’t even agree on whether or not the Bulls can even get that far. Fortunately for Chicago, however, there are a few reasons for hope, and these are five of them.
1. Defense Wins Championships
Ever heard of this old saying? Of course you have, it’s been around since before mankind had the technology to write it down. Coach Thibs’ squad had the most suffocating defense in the league, and Rose wasn’t having as big an impact on that side of the floor as he would have liked, especially after missing 27 games and being adequately replaced by C.J. Watson and John Lucas III.
The Bulls continued their shutdown defense, regardless of who was on the floor, even if Carlos Boozer was there. The Bulls finished tops in the league by allowing a mere 88.2 points per game.
Speaking of Boozer, this an important memo to next year’s Bulls team from their fans: Don’t include Carlos Boozer. The Bulls are simply a better team with Taj Gibson on the floor, and after a few years of this mediocre production, Boozer’s $75 million dollar contract gets quite irritating.
2. Incredible Shooting Beyond the Arc
Did anyone notice a trend with the six-foot (realistically 5’9’’) J.J. Barea tearing up the awestruck Miami Heat in last year’s finals? Or Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitski making the Heat’s vaunted defense look absolutely helpless? Hot 3-point shooting will do that to a team, and the Bulls certainly aren’t about to run out of it.
Kyle “Hot Sauce” Korver has been on a bit of a tear as of late, and he’s one of five players on the Bulls’ usual rotation that shoots the long-ball at a rate better than 36%. If the Bulls do manage to get hot for a few games, it’s hard to think of a defense that can keep Korver, Hamilton, Watson, Lucas, and Luol Deng from firing at will. Even if they miss, the Bulls led the league in rebounding, giving them more second chances than any other team.
3. Richard Hamilton’s on the Team
The Bulls are now faced with the task that’s only been accomplished once in recent history: Win a championship without one active player that’s a surefire Hall of Famer. Who pulled this off, you might ask? The 2003-04 Pistons, featuring none other than Rip Hamilton. Rip was the Pistons’ the leading scorer and these Bulls have an awful lot in common with them: Rasheed Wallace was a grumpier Joakim Noah, Chauncey Billups was essentially a slightly enhanced Watson, and Tayshaun Prince’s numbers look an awful lot like those of Luol Deng.
No one gave those third-seeded Pistons a chance either, but Rip knows that the Bulls have what it takes to make a serious run.
4. Tom Thibodeau Coaches the Team
There’s a reason that this man was the fastest to win 100 games in the league’s history. He’s a veritable genius. The man pushes his players to their absolute limit, resulting in the type of selfless, wholehearted effort that we see from the Bulls on an almost nightly basis.
Also, to reiterate, he’s one of the biggest defensive perfectionists in basketball, and (say it with me) defense wins championships.
5. The Bulls Have Practiced Being Starless
One might not have nearly so much optimism for this team had they not played 41% of their regular season games without their superstar, and their 18-9 record in that span isn’t so bad, either. Winning two out of three games like that is a pace that would have put the Bulls at this year’s second seed in the East, and the Miami Heat can tell you that that’s nothing to sneeze at, nor does it destroy a team’s chances of getting to the finals.
The fact is that the Bulls have gone to great lengths this season to adjust to playing without their fallen hero, albeit expecting him back for the playoffs. However, they’ve beaten the Magic, Celtics and Heat once without him, with another win over the Heat coming in spite of Rose, not because of him.
Their Rose-less record and performance show that for the Bulls, it’s more a matter of overcoming the mental trauma than it is overcoming the lack of their star point guard on the court.
The Bulls aren’t out of this race yet, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s just hope that they know it too.
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