Wow, what a freaking weird regular-season for our Bulls. I know the “rollercoaster” analogy for a season or game in sports is overly used, but let me know if you can find a better word to describe the 2014-15 Chicago Bulls. Here is the quick breakdown:
December 19th-27th (2014):
They handled Memphis, Toronto, Washington, LA Lakers on Christmas Day and the Pelicans in the midst of a 7-game winning streak. Everyone but McDermott was healthy and at their best other than Noah who was getting back to All-Star level. Butler and Rose played like the best backcourt in the NBA, taking care of Lowry, Conley, Wall and Beal in victories and it was their best stretch of games between the two. Heading into 2015 the Bulls looked like the team to beat in the East as Cleveland was in crisis mode.
January 1st-February 12th (2015):
Maybe the most confusing stretch of games by the Bulls in my entire life. They didn’t care about defense, even though after every loss they said to the media, “we gotta play better defense as a team.” Dunleavy suffered some ridiculous bruise that kept him out way too long. They lost to these non-playoff teams: Utah, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix, Miami and Orlando and also lost badly to Cleveland, Washington twice, Houston and Atlanta. Yet, at the same time beat: Houston, Dallas, Cleveland, San Antonio and Golden State. Keep in mind, Golden State went 39-2 at home, Rose had the memorable buzzer-beater and 30 in the big W. Regardless, no one knew what was going on with this inconsistent team.
February 23rd-April 5th:
Rose has to get the meniscus he tore last season completely removed, sending Twitter into complete bedlam (D-Rose injuries always have this effect for some reason) also sent me into a deep depression for at least 3 days. People start speculating if the Bulls should just rebuild (myself included) Butler goes out for four weeks, Gibson is labored by a sprained ankle and the Bulls somehow go 12-10 thanks to the rise of the Serbian International Man of Mystery and your stealth ROY candidate, Nikola Mirotic. Also, all the “Tom Thibodeau is leaving” rumors continue to keep me up at night in complete fear. Stay for me, Thibs.
And that brings us to today. Where after going through all of the ups-and-downs all year, the Bulls for the first time since the 2011 playoffs will be going into them as full force as possible. Rose has shown flashes of his former self since returning. There is a little bit of rust on his shot, but he is still attacking the rim and creating open shots for teammates, all great signs for the Bulls moving into the postseason.
Here are the reasons why this 2015 window might be the only time the Bulls will be able to push all their chips to the middle of the table:
- Like everything else since 2008, it starts with Rose and the storyline since 2012, it starts with Rose’s health. It’s basically been four whole years since Rose last finished a playoff game. There is absolutely no guarantee about next year, next month, next game… you get it. 16 wins and Derrick Rose is a Chicago hero regardless of injuries, pretty remarkable (Although I should mention, everyone else is 16 wins away, too.)
- Also in 2011, after losing to the Heat in 5, the fan base was pumped for the future. We had the league MVP, Noah, Gibson, Deng and a kick-ass bench mob. Doesn’t seem that long ago, but oh how things change. No one is getting younger or game-planning for next year.
- Butler is a restricted free-agent after the playoffs, with all indications the Bulls are willing to pay a similar salary to that of Klay Thompson, still, nothing is for certain. Gasol is 34 and coming off a one of the best seasons of his career, leading the league in double-doubles, hard to imagine he has a better campaign in him in the future. Noah and Gibson are entering their 30’s and peak of their careers as well.
- REPORTS OF THIBODEAU LEAVING ARE SERIOUSLY FREAKING ME OUT. THIS HAS TO BE THE YEAR. WE GOTTA KEEP THIS GUY.
- I can’t stress the last bullet point enough.
With much of the attention focused on the bloodbath that is about to ensue in the Western Conference playoffs, many believe it is a forgone conclusion that Cleveland is coming out of the East. And maybe so, ever since LeBron came back from vacation in Miami for two weeks, he has a strong case for being the MVP since then as they locked up the 2-seed and went 34-9 over the last 41 games, best in the league.
But there still remains those rumors in the background that Kevin Love and LeBron don’t get along, which by no means is not unusual, but if you’re gunning for a championship, you better be on the same page. Who knows how Irving, Love and pretty much the rest of the roster outside of Mike Miller, James Jones and Kendrick Perkins are going to handle the playoff pressure, many of them experiencing for their first time.
Same goes for those free will Atlanta Hawks down South. Sure the majority of them are veterans who have been around the league, yet many weren’t playing or have played on the biggest of stages and without a so-called “leader” or superstar to be there in crunch time, no one knows what to expect from them either.
You might be able to understand what I’m working towards here, the Bulls chances of making it through the East are being highly underrated. Regardless of my lifetime affiliation with this team, here is the case for the Bulls to make it out of the East.
I’m a big believer in the “suffering” theory in the playoffs. You know, when a team goes through every hurdle and obstacle thrown at them in the years leading up to their ultimate glory. The Bulls in the 90’s had to go through the Pistons. San Antonio lost to Miami in the most gut-punching way possible, also don’t forget about what Derek Fisher did to them years before, they have suffered too. The Heat were upset by the Mavs in the 2011 Finals, and the Mavs suffered in the ’06 NBA Finals to incredible performances by Dwayne Wade and were upset in the first round the following season by the Warriors too. Majority of Championship winning teams go through the “suffering” stage on the way to a NBA title, the Bulls on the other hand, have suffered far too much.
After being bounced by the Heat in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, all signs pointed toward many more MVP seasons for Derrick Rose to come, and potentially one or two titles. Then his knees fall apart, the Bulls become a hub for back-up point guards to revive their careers in Rose’s absence, but still couldn’t get past Philadelphia, Miami, Washington with them the past three years. This is as healthy as the Bulls are going to get. They know what it takes, the tables must turn eventually.
Depth and Mismatches
I alluded to this in my post telling Bulls fans to “RELAX” back in January, but this team is the deepest in the East. Atlanta relies too heavily on their starters, Washington is fueled by John Wall, Bradley Beal and whatever is left of Paul Pierce and Cleveland receives roughly 55% of their scoring from James, Irving and Love. Not to say those teams couldn’t beat the Bulls in 7 games, they all could, but no team will be running potentially ten guys deep in the East other than the Bulls.
With a completely healthy roster the Bulls are 4-1, with a healthy starting five (Rose, Butler, Dunleavy, Gasol and Noah) they are 16-5. The mirage of injuries to Rose, Noah, Gibson and Butler, opened up the door for Mirotic, Snell and Brooks to make major contributions throughout the season especially for Nikola and Snell.
The Bulls also present various mismatches for any of the potential teams they could play in the postseason. Mirotic coming off the bench this season has saved the Bulls season in many regards, his 4th quarter play throughout the month of March proved that he is living up to the way-too-high expectations coming out of Europe.
His ability to knock down the three, drive to the basket and get to the foul line has given opponents fits all season long and will against the Bucks in Round 1. Toss in the Bulls’ size with Noah, Gibson, Pau and Mirotic, as well as their improved 3-point shooting, it gives the Bulls versatility depending on the nature of each game, a luxury few, if any teams have in the East.
Now or Never
Who knows what next year may bring, but if one thing is for sure, it’s that we have no idea. The Bulls could be a completely different team next season, with new faces all over the place, especially on the sidelines. That is why this postseason run is all the more important. Finally, they’re no excuses for playoff basketball in Chicago. This team is geared for every potential challenge thrown their way and they have valuable experience on how to handle them. They have a coach that if you give him a few days to prepare, can draw up a defense to shut down any offense. The time is now.
It has been a long time coming, but the Bulls are finally in a position to breakthrough. It won’t be easy, but neither was the last four years.
If you’re not way-too-excited for this postseason, this will get you there.
Not satisfied yet?
See Red, Go Bulls and Welcome back NBA Playoffs.