If the Chicago Bulls missed star point guard Derrick Rose in the playoffs last season, they really miss him now. Chicago lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 93-92 on Monday night, blowing a 27-point lead and getting outscored 30-12 in the fourth quarter. Though it is important that Rose's rehab from a knee injury not be rushed, the Bulls will need his heart and skills back sooner rather than later if they are to make another run at the NBA Finals.
Don't get me wrong. The Chicago Bulls have not looked absolutely terrible this season. Despite their 6-7 record, they are in second place in the Central Division and just one-and-a-half games behind the Milwaukee Bucks.
There is plenty of time left for a turnaround, but the simple truth is that Chicago needs Rose to do well. They were a lottery team before selecting him first overall out of Memphis in 2008, and have made the playoffs every season since. Were it not for him injuring his knee during last year's playoffs, top-ranked Chicago easily could have made a run to the NBA Finals.
But the sad truth is that Rose has yet to play this season, and he himself has stated that he won't be back until he is "ready to play."
Whenever that may be, the Bulls will remain stuck in their current state until he comes back. Just as Ricky Rubio's absence is affecting the Minnesota Timberwolves, the same can be said about Rose and Chicago. The lack of a reliable point guard who gets everyone on the team involved is a big void to fill, and Chicago is learning that the hard way this season.
The Bulls' point guards this season have been beyond disappointing in Rose's absence. Rookie Marquis Teague has barely gotten any playing time, and Kirk Hinrich has been nowhere near as effective as he usually is.
Hinrich is not as much of a playmaker as Rose is, but has run the point well enough in nine seasons that he can be considered a reliable scoring floor general. His best skill is his three-point shooting, as he has shot 38 percent from long-range for his career.
That skill has completely deserted the former Kansas Jayhawk this year, and has the Bulls looking as though they're playing for nothing and not going anywhere this season. He has shot just 25 percent from downtown and only 31 percent from the field. Granted, he has been playing with a hip injury, but his struggles have mightily contributed to those of the team.
The fact of the matter is that while the Bulls are doing all they can to stay in the playoff race, the absence of Rose and his ability to make everyone on the team better as a whole is hitting hard. Chicago's collective confidence is clearly shaken at the loss of their leader, and the sense of teamwork that Rose brings to the table is essentially gone.
Granted, Chicago is sixth in the league in assists per game with 22.7, but that is just a number. Without Rose, the Bulls are lost and will not be the force in the Eastern Conference that they have become over the past two seasons.
Once he gets back on the court, it's going to be shocking how much better the Bulls look compared to how they played without him.