It was the night of December 16th, Chicago was covered in the first of many inches of snow and the Bulls were playing the not so good Orlando Magic. I was in attendance that game and the Bulls were a step too slow all night. They couldn’t make a shot, weren’t playing defense and played with no energy. It seems as if they were coming to grips with the fact that, without Derrick Rose, who was injured the month before, they weren’t going anywhere bu to the lottery this season.
Nearly 4 months have passed, (April 14th) Chicago is getting hit by more snow and the Bulls are once again playing the Magic at home. It’s as if nothing has changed here, except for these minor details:
– Luol Deng was traded
-D.J. Augustin was signed
-Joakim Noah has 4 Triple-Doubles and if it weren’t for the Kevin Durant scoring explosion of 2014, a legit MVP Candidate.
-Taj Gibson plays more minutes than Boozer, because he deserves it.
-D.J. Augustin has played like an All-Star and then some.
-The Bulls have a 47-33 record, and are within a half-game of the 3rd seed in the East. Where they were projected to be, with Rose of course.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was thinking lottery when the Bulls traded away Luol Deng for a few draft picks in January. A guy who became the staple of what Chicago Basketball is in the Thibs era, was basically given away for nothing ( I classify the rights to Andrew Bynum, as nothing.) Except all it did, probably unintentionally, was make Joakim Noah really, really, really mad/sad. The following game Noah scored 26 points, added 19 rebounds that fueled a 15-point comeback against, the Magic.
Behind the Coach-of-the-Year-that-won’t-be Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls began winning games the old ways, with defense, hustle and enough offense. Every night it seemed D.J. Augustin posted the stat line of 23 points 4 rebounds and 6-8 assists in place of Rose. Not enough credit has been tossed his way, but he has been a blessing in disguise for this team that was in desperate need of anyone with the ability to put a ball in a hoop.
Kevin Durant will win the MVP this season. He has put on a scoring clinic night in and night out that hasn’t been seen since Jordan in ’88-’89. But if we’re talking, truly the most valuable player in the league, it’s Joakim Noah. His defense, hustle and energy have always been there. But now he has added a more respectable offense game and he passes better than most guards in The Association. On four occasions he has made Triple-Double’s look like another day at the office and has become the heart and soul leader of a team that has lost theirs twice.
No one, at least nationally, took the Bulls seriously until the nationally televised Sunday game on ABC against the Heat on March 9th. Led by Jo’s 20 points, 12 rebounds and Augustin’s 22 points, the Bulls bullied the Heat in OT to beat them 95-88. Sure the Bulls have beaten the Heat before, but Noah started getting MVP credentials he deserved ( which he then would say, “There is only one MVP on this team, and that’s Derrick Rose.”) and the game catapulted the Bulls to go on a run that has them now sitting nice and pretty for the third seat in the East going into the playoffs.
Of course, if you have been watching all season long, you already know this.
Early today I saw on NBA TV a clip in which a panel of writers were picking their “Dark Horse” Championship team. Most chose the Bulls. While I don’t for-see a scenario in which the Bulls are playing for the Larry O’Brien trophy in June ( I can only dream) it amazes me every time how this team, a group of guys that were counted out from the moment Rose limped off the floor in Portland, are now being considered as a team that can knock off Miami or Indiana for the Eastern crown.
They aren’t scared of either team. Most teams dread playing the Bulls because they know they’re going to get punched in the mouth every night. No matter the talent or lack of it, The Bulls find a way to make you believe they can pull off something miraculous. Do I think they can beat the Heat or Pacers? Maybe once or twice, not four times. That is if they beat the Nets or Wizards in the first round. Do I want to see it happen? More than anything sometimes.
As the playoffs near, the Bulls will no doubt make some noise. It’s how much, that is always the question.