Chicago Bulls: 11 Subplots to Watch as Bulls Begin Playoff Push

Al Rieger@Al RiegerCorrespondent IFebruary 16, 2012

Chicago Bulls: 11 Subplots to Watch as Bulls Begin Playoff Push

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    Is the NBA season really halfway done already?

    The postseason is just around the corner, and the Bulls look poised for a deep playoff run once again. At 24-7, it's a good time to be a Bulls fan, but plenty of questions still need to be answered. Richard Hamilton's health remains an issue. Will the Bulls land Dwight Howard, and who is the Bulls' official spokesperson?

    Ahead is a list of 11 subplots to look for as the Bulls press on towards the playoffs.  

Derrick Rose's Back Injury

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    The most important issue will be how Derrick Rose's back injury will affect his playing time. The reigning MVP's status remains day-to-day.

    Rose had an MRI that showed no structural damage, but Rose says this is the worst injury he has had in his career. 

    Cause for Concern

    Back specialist Jeff Winternheimer told the Chicago Sun-Times that an injured disc may not be detected by an MRI.

    Who can lead this team without the MVP?

    The Bulls don’t have another player who can put the team on their shoulders like Rose can, but they do have an All-Star coach who can outwit opponents and keep the Bulls floating until Rose is healthy.

    The Bulls came away with a team victory (121-115) against the Sacramento Kings that likely would have been a blowout if Rose were playing.

    Blessing in Disguise

    While Rose is chilling, getting back massages, the bench will be paying gritty, drawn-out games which could prove beneficial once Rose is back. C.J Watson is getting valuable playing time, and he has been aggressive.  In four starts this year, Watson has averaged 14.0 points, 6.5 assists, 2.0 three-pointers and 2.5 steals per game.

    Rose says he will play soon, but expect the coaching staff to be cautious with Rose. This is his second injury this year, and the most important thing is that he’s healthy for the playoffs. 

Is Luol Deng Being Overworked?

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    Deng is back, but he’s not 100 percent. He’s playing through a torn ligament that's still bothering him.

    Still, doctors say the injury can’t get any worse by playing on it, and he’ll opt to just play through the pain. Although the torn ligament may be safe from further injury, the pain will likely linger and could affect his shooting. He’s still averaging 15.6 points a game but shooting only 41 percent since returning. 

    As the playoffs approach, Deng’s minutes are going to pile up. The first day back after missing seven games, Deng played 41 minutes. Since then, he is averaging over 36 minutes a game even though the Bulls have won by over 22 points per game.

    With Rose out with injury, Deng will see even more playing time. He has proven he can play extended minutes but he has never played a NBA season like this one. It will be interesting to see if Deng’s in one piece come May.

Richard Hamilton's Aging Body

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    Richard Hamilton is a premier shooting guard, but his health remains an issue moving forward. He has missed 19 games so far with a nagging groin injury. K.C Johnson tweeted that he’s at least a week away from playing.

    The Bulls shooting guard woes seemed to be fixed with the addition of Hamilton, but injuries have kept him from contributing. It’s no secret he’s getting old. Hamilton has missed on average of 25 games per season since 2008.

    Looking Ahead

    There is some cause for concern with Hamilton not producing. As a shooter, it will be hard for Hamilton to get hot if he has been sitting on the bench too long. If he can't produce in the playoffs, the Bulls could be in trouble. Either they gamble on Hamilton's health or make a move before the trade deadline. 

Will Carlos Boozer Change His Ways?

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    The Bulls saw something in Carlos Boozer when they gave him a five-year, $75 million contract. Boozer’s paddy-cake defense continues to be a problem, an even bigger problem with such a defensive-minded game plan.

    Boozer just doesn't like physical play and has been notoriously criticized for being soft. My grandmother takes more hits on her way to the kitchen. 

    Looking Ahead

    With a surplus of defensive-minded role players, the Bulls may be able to withstand Boozer’s liability. Luckily, Taj Gibson is Boozer’s alter-ego. If Boozer decides to start conforming to the team identity, the Bulls will be uniformly sound. Boozer has never played defense, but then again, he’s never played on a team of this caliber and who knows? Maybe that will force a change.

Who Speaks for the Bulls?

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    "Did you get the memo?"
    "I wanna go higher!"
    "Too big. Too strong. Too fast. Too Good"

    Stacey King brings humor to his job as the Chicago Bulls commentator. King's enthusiasm is tangible through the screen. He often gives players nicknames like "hot sauce" (Kyle Korver and "Chicago's finest brew" (Ronnie Brewer). With help from Rose TV ratings are higher than ever.

    That's Just who He Is

    In Melissa Isaacson’s article on, Horace Grant recalls King’s presence in the locker room during the Jordan era:

    Stacey always took the edge off with his jokes when we were tight, in those playoff games against the Knicks and Pistons. Or if we needed someone to pick on, he was there too. And we all loved him for it.

Mark March 5th on your Calendar

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    Remember when the Bulls lost to the Indiana Pacers three weeks ago? Well Rose does too. He told the Sun-Times, “I’ll never forget how they celebrated after the game. I can’t wait to play them again.”

    Watching Rose play is always a treat. Watching him play when he’s angry is inspirational. The Pacers and Bulls now nurture a young rivalry after the Bulls knocked them out of the first round last year. After the Pacers ended the Bulls' eight-game winning streak at home, they celebrated like they had just won it all. Rose saw it all, and he’s angry. You won’t like him when he’s angry.   

Will Dwight Howard to Chicago Rumors Come True?

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    Answer: probably not.

    In an alternate universe, Howard and Rose are playing in matching sneakers, as teammates, running pick and rolls together and making the rest of the NBA cower in fear. 

    The trade deadline is fast approaching, and it will be similar to the summer before the 2009-10 campaign creating a media bonanza. Chances are the Bulls will stay quiet or a make a move on an available shooting guard. The Orlando Magic won’t give him up cheap. The Bulls would likely sacrifice chemistry to get the big man to move. 

Will the Bulls Become a Three-Point Team?

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    Last season, the Bulls shot 36 percent from behind the arc. With Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer healthy, this season the Bulls are more efficient.

    Thibodeau explained to the Chicago Sun-Times the reason is because they’re playing more “inside-out,” and with Noah and Boozer in the rotation, there’s a lesser need to shoot the three. 

    C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver are top NBA snipers, but they were not chosen to participate in the 2012 All-Star Three-Point Shootout.

    Korver is ranked seventh in three-pointers made. Watson is ranked eighth in three-point percentage (46 percent). If these two can sustain this long-ball accuracy, the Bulls can add another dimension to their offense.

Will Tom Thibodeau Defend His Coach of the Year Title?

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    Thibodeau was Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for January and will be the head coach of the Eastern Conference All-Stars. Less than a year ago, he was named the Coach of the Year. 

    The Bulls are off to an even better start than last year albeit injuries to key players. Right now, he’s the clear front-runner for the award.

Will Derrick Rose Defend His MVP Title?

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    Why can’t Derrick Rose be the MVP again? Why?

    Whether the Bulls win or lose games almost always depends on Rose, and if the Bulls keep their spot at the top of the standings, he could pull off a repeat. However, last year Rose won the award easily. This year, it will be a dash to the finish.

    LeBron James is putting up freakish numbers: 28 points per game, 6.8 assists, and 8.2 rebounds is just astounding. These are MVP numbers, but the MVP should be the definitive, best player on his team. Dwyane Wade is on the Miami Heat as well, and it’s arguable that he’s the best player on the roster.

    Kobe Bryant is also a front-runner.  He’s carrying the Lakers' scoring load. Bryant has 11 30-point games this season and is averaging 28.7 points.

    Rose is still ahead of the pack. His numbers are similar to last year’s, and the Bulls have been cursed with injuries once again. There is no other team in the NBA who has a player so integral to their team’s success than Rose, except for Kobe Bryant. If the Bulls have a better record than the Lakers and Rose is back playing soon, he should be the MVP.

Bulls vs. Heat

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    Another possible rivalry in the making. This will be the most anticipated matchup as the playoffs near. Both teams have improved their roster from last year. The Bulls added Richard Hamilton. The Heat drafted point guard Norris Cole and signed Shane Battier.

    In their last meeting, the Bulls were without Luol Deng and lost a tooth-and-nail battle with the Heat as Rose missed two crucial free throws with 23 seconds left. Last year it was the Heat who lost to the Bulls in the regular season but prevailed in the playoffs.

    There is constant debate on which team has the upper-hand, but this question won't be answered until the playoffs are underway. Nonetheless, the Bulls play the Heat three more times, twice at home and once in Miami. When these two teams meet, the entire NBA community is watching.