Despite suffering a shocking 100-99 loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, it would be hard to find a Bulls fan who isn't optimistic. After all, reigning MVP Derrick Rose is finally back and the Chicago Bulls held one of the best scoring offenses in the NBA to 100 points despite going to overtime.
To put it plainly, had the Bulls been able to hit anything in the first quarter and one more free throw in the fourth, the Knicks wouldn't have been able to force OT.
Nevertheless, the game is in the record books and is likely to go down as a classic in the Bulls' heated rivalry with the New York Knickerbockers. The question is, what has it shown us about the Bulls?
One of the most notable things on display was the Bulls' ability to come back from large deficits in spite of sporadic play from their often consistent superstar. This should be music to Chicago's ears as the potential struggles of D-Rose, who shot just 35 percent from the field in the 2011 postseason, have been proven as far less detrimental as previously believed.
In fact, the Chicago Bulls' 14-7 record without Rose is actually put into perspective.
The Chicago Bulls are a good team with or without Rose. He simply takes them to another level.
While many have maligned the Bulls for subpar play without D-Rose, it must be noted that they played without their starting shooting guard, Rip Hamilton, as well. Furthermore, this claim of mediocrity must be evaluated and dismissed.
The Bulls won 67 percent of their games without Rose. To put that number into perspective, only four teams in the NBA have won greater than 67 percent of their games this season. Those victories include a double-digit win over the playoff-contending Phoenix Suns, two defeats of the Boston Celtics and a home win against the Miami Heat. They also include victories over the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers.
Consider that seven playoff victories to five losses against playoff-caliber opponents without Rose. Math has always been a strong suit of mine, which makes it easy for me to calculate the meaning of such a statistic: the Chicago Bulls could win a playoff series without Rose.
This is not to suggest their running the table, but simply a fair address of their talent, coaching and capabilities with or without Rose present.
The Bulls' supporting cast includes All-Star and premier defender Luol Deng, former NBA champion Rip Hamilton, top-10 defensive center Joakim Noah and former All-Star Carlos Boozer. Their bench includes one of the most underrated players in the NBA, Taj Gibson, and a player who could be argued as the best three-point shooter in the league, Kyle Korver.
It sounds like they're a good point guard away from the 2004 Detroit Pistons.
Furthermore, the Bulls are directed by reigning Coach of the Year and Doc Rivers protege Tom Thibodeau. For those who fail to see the importance here, Thibodeau happens to have reached 100 career wins faster than any other coach in NBA history. When asked what it meant to him, Thibodeau replied characteristically:
"I’m just glad we won," he said. "When you look at stuff like that, it says that you have good players. We have great guys, too. They're not only good players, but they're great players. I'm very fortunate to be coaching this team."
You have a selfless but productive coach, one current and two former All-Stars, one former champion, an elite three-point shooter and one of the league's best defensive units. While any lineup could use a reigning MVP, I'd like to see you name five teams in the Eastern Conference with that impressive of a resume.
At this point in time, the Bulls are matched up with the Philadelphia 76ers. While Philly has played strong ball all year, they're currently on the decline. Their four-game losing streak includes an ugly 21-point home loss to the Toronto Raptors. They're also yet another team who fell to the Rose-absent Bulls.
In a league that's more momentum-based than skill-based, this spells victory for Chicago.
For those concerned with a major drop-off in quality of play, fear not. The Bulls allowed just 92.1 points per game in Rose's absence, scoring an average of 95. That's 1.8 less points scored and 3.2 more allowed than their season average. That's also a plus-2.9 scoring differential that would rank sixth in the NBA.
Ahead of the team they face tonight: the New York Knicks.
In breaking down this equation, it's clear that the Bulls could win a first-round matchup without Rose. As fate would have it, however, we won't see Chicago do such a thing in 2012. D-Rose is back, and the Bulls are thinking further than one series. They're thinking about a title.