Rose V. James
The NBA playoffs are now just two days away, and the league is quieting down in anticipation for the coming storm. Players, coaches and GMs are now focused on preparing for the physically grueling, mentally exhausting playoffs and you can be sure that all of of them are giving special consideration to a series against the Miami Heat.
From the beginning of the shortened preseason to this very day, many NBA analysts have chosen the Heat as the team to win it all this year. Ever since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teamed up in 2010, there has been a sense that it is their destiny to crush all competition and win the NBA championship. Despite being beaten convincingly by the Dallas Mavericks in the championship series last year, the Heat are still largely regarded as the team to beat.
I would humbly disagree.
Western Conference teams aside, there is one challenger in the East who legitimately scares the Heat. One team who has a better:
- Points Differential
- Points Allowed
- Allowed Field Goal Percentage
- Three-Point Percentage
- Allowed Three-Point Percentage
- Turnover Amount
- Offensive Rebounds
- Defensive Rebounds
I am, of course, referring to the Chicago Bulls.
There are many reasons why the Bulls are legitimately the team to beat in the playoffs—here are my top five.
Rose and Deng on Bench
The Chicago Bulls have dealt with injuries all season long, but not anymore (well, kind of). After only playing 14 games to this point in the season with their full roster, the Bulls should be at 100 percent come playoffs. Luol Deng still has a torn ligament in his left wrist, but having played the majority of the season with this injury, he should be able continue playing at a high level.
Health will be a great asset to the Bulls, as all the other Eastern Conference teams have had injuries at the end of the regular season, which could carry over into the playoffs. Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks are the most effected by injuries with Dwight Howard out for the playoffs and Al Horford expected to miss at least the first round.
A team lauded for its great chemistry, the Bulls are ready to put a healthy starting unit on the floor, and despite having only started together 15 times this season, they should be able to play well together and provide the offense the Bulls have lacked at times. With a healthy starting unit, the reserves are now able to move back into their designated roles on the Bench Mob and provide the outstanding defense they are known for.
Thibodeau and Rose
Tom Thibodeau was last year's Coach of the Year and is likely on his way to being the first NBA coach to win the award in back-to-back years. Taking a team riddled by injuries to a league-best record of 50-16 is a monumental challenge and Thibs has been more than equal to it.
Last year, Thibs won the award for turning an eighth-seed team into a first-seed team in the course of one season. This year, Thibs has won the award by making a great defensive team steller, for creating offense without his best offensive player and inspiring almost all of his roster to play at a higher level than last year.
Thibs has surrounded himself with great assistants whose experience and achievements greatly contribute to the Bulls' culture. Ron Adams, Rick Brunson, Andy Greer, Ed Pinckney, Mike Wilhelm, Adrian Griffin, Erik Helland and Fred Tedeschi have all done their part to improve the Bulls organization, and if Thibs does win the award again, all these men will be partially responsible and partially credited.
In a league dominated by All-Stars, Thibs has taken a team that had two all-stars (both of whom were hobbled by injuries) and led them to the top seed in the East.
Bench Mob Defense
Derrick Rose—Last year's MVP, an All-Star capable of scoring 30 points in a game while making it look easy.
C.J. Watson—Back-up PG who averages four assists and nearly 10 points a game while shooting 40 percent from downtown.
Mike James—Fourth-string PG who is currently shooting 50 percent from three-point (who cares if it's 4-for-8.)
Richard Hamilton—Gritty veteran who averages nearly 12 points on 45 percent shooting. Has a knack for getting under opponents' skins.
Ronnie Brewer—10th-best SG in terms of steals, 14th in terms of blocks and a backup to boot. Best defensive backup SG in the league.
Kyle Korver—Lights out shooter who averages nearly 44 percent from downtown.
Jimmy Butler—Rookie who in limited minutes has shown himself to be a lockdown defender.
Carlos Boozer—The inside scoring presence for the Bulls. Averages 15 points and nearly nine rebounds while shooting 53 percent from the field.
Taj Gibson—Known for his great defense and savage dunks, Taj averages seven points, five boards and a block as a backup.
Brian Scalabrine—Hands-down best player in the league. Or maybe not. Not much of a player, Scalabrine is the best player coach in the league right now.
Joakim Noah—The Bulls' motor, Noah averages nearly 10 rebounds, 10 points and adds 1.4 blocks per game.
Omer Asik—Asik averages five rebounds and one block per game. He also doubles the difficulty of 99.9 percent of inside shots when he is on the court.
Every player on the Bulls roster can contribute significantly if called upon. They are all ready and hungry and will give 100 percent if put into any game.
Lock-Down Team Defense
The Chicago Bulls have the stingiest defense in the league. Prior to Thursday night's game, the Bulls have held their opponents to the lowest points allowed at 88.4 points per game, the second-lowest field goal percentage at 43.3 percent and the fourth-lowest rebounds per game at 40.
The old mantra still rings true today, offense sells seats and defense wins championships. The Bulls lost two games last year in the Eastern Conference Finals in the final seconds and there were two ways they could have addressed this issue: add more scoring or play better defense. The Bulls actually went both routes by adding Richard Hamilton and by improving their defensive performance.
The increase in defensive intensity has led the Bulls to have the best points differential in the league, winning by 7.8 points on average before Thursday night's game. The Bulls have won 14 games by 20 or more points this season and have had a killer instinct they have lacked in the past. With outstanding backups in their frontcourt, the Bulls have the skill and depth to harass teams defensively for 48 minutes a game.
During last year's playoffs, end-of-game scenarios were predictable for the Chicago Bulls. If the Bulls needed a shot, Derrick Rose would hold the ball and try an isolation attempt, if they needed three, he would call for a high pick-and-roll to get open. Without a reliable second scoring option, the Bulls were predictable and easy to defend. That was last year.
This year, the Bulls have had several players show that they are capable of scoring when needed.
Derrick Rose has scored 30-plus points 10 times this season, 20-plus points 23 times.
Luol Deng has scored 20-plus points 20 times and 15-plus points 28 times this season.
Carlos Boozer has scored 25-plus points three times this season and 20-plus points 15 times this season.
C.J. Watson has scored 20-plus points five times this season and 15-plus points 12 times this season.
Richard Hamilton has scored 20-plus points five times this season and 15-plus points nine times this season.
John Lucas has scored 20-plus points four times this season and 15-plus points seven times this season.
Joakim Noah has scored 20-plus points three times this season and 15-plus points 14 times this season.
Kyle Korver has scored 20-plus points twice this season and 15-plus points eight times this season.
The Bulls are 35-3 when leading after the first quarter, 38-3 when leading at half and 40-3 when leading after the third quarter. These impressive stats are due to their ability to keep up with opponents in scoring and hold onto leads once they have gained it.