If you had told me the day the NBA lockout ended, that come April the Chicago Bulls would sport the best record in the league despite missing MVP Derrick Rose for 21 games, Rip Hamilton only taking to the court 17 times, and Luol Deng missing nine games, I would have thought you could not possibly be serious.
Yet that is exactly the case as the Bulls charge towards the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. Not only do the Bulls lead the league in victories, but also have the largest scoring differential, allow the second fewest points per game, and have the best road record in the NBA.
They have exceeded all expectations, given the absence of three of their greatest offensive weapons. I believe it speaks to the effectiveness of coach Tom Thibodeau and his staff, and gives credence to the notion that Thibodeau should absolutely be the first person to ever repeat as Coach of the Year.
The evidence is on the court, as remarkably the Bulls have compiled a 14-7 record without Rose. The Bulls face many formidable foes in the Eastern Conference, none more talented than the Miami Heat.
By now, most are aware of the talents that were taken to South Beach, and the results have been impressive. With nearly 100 victories since the start of last season, and a playoff exit handed to Rose and Co. that no Bulls fan will soon forget, the Heat have made their presence known.
LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh all pose individual difficulties for the Bulls. Not to mention an improved supporting cast highlighted by additions such as defensive specialist Shane Battier, rookie Norris Cole, and a healthy Udonis Haslem. I have seen no evidence to support the notion that the Bulls as currently comprised could beat the Heat in a seven-game series. The closest thing anyone has to compare resulted in a 4-1 series loss for the Bulls last May.
This does not even touch on the challenge that lies in whatever team emerges out west. The Oklahoma City Thunder proved they can certainly beat the Bulls without Rose, and they are as good of a defensive team as the Bulls. They will have trouble stopping Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Serge Ibaka and the championship experience of Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher.
Even outside of the Heat and Thunder, the Bulls will not make it through the playoffs unchallenged. The Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers have both posed serious matchup problems at times, exemplified in Bulls losses Jan. 25 and Feb. 1 respectively. In both losses, the Bulls never reached 45 percent shooting and were outrebounded. Along with the fact that one can never count the wizened Boston Celtics out as they have taken control of the Atlantic Division behind a five game winning streak recently.
The point is it has been great seeing the near constant effort the team gives Thibodeau night in and night out with Rose sitting. But that does not mean fans should even think for a second the Bulls stand a chance in the playoffs without Rose. It goes much deeper than missing his 23 points and eight assists a night along with an apparent never-ending supply of clutch moments. His will to win and refusal to give up on any play or game is what drives this Bulls team.
Rose has what we all know Jordan had, what we think Lebron lacks and what we have seen Kobe display. Rose wants to win at all costs. Always. The point is, with Rose, the task of winning a championship is difficult. Without him, it’s seemingly unfathomable.