The Chicago Bulls are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 30-21 record. They have the best road record in the conference, and have given up the second-fewest points per game as well. The most impressive part about all of this is that they're without their best player.
However, by the time the playoffs roll around, the Bulls are the obvious choice as the team with the best chance to upset the Miami Heat. Here are five reasons why.
It's simply amazing that the Bulls are only a half-game out of third place despite not having their best player this entire season. However, while Rose does not have an official return date, he's already been cleared for full-contract practice.
The 2011 MVP and three-time NBA All-Star easily makes the Bulls a much better team. He's an elite scorer, averaging over 20 points per game in the last three seasons. He's also increased his average assists per game over those same three seasons, which means he's improving as a facilitator.
Rose is also a clutch shooter, which will be key in the playoffs. He's not afraid to take the big shot, and his ability to drive to the hoop gives the Bulls their best opportunity to score in crunch time.
When Chicago's star point guard returns, his presence alone puts the Bulls on at least the same tier as the New York Knicks.
Even though Chicago is ranked 23rd in the league in bench points per game, they still have a lot of talent not in the starting lineup.
Nate Robinson is averaging 12.1 points in just under 24 minutes per game. He's one of the few Bulls that can create his own shots and he's shooting over 40 percent from three-point land.
Taj Gibson is the best big man on the Bulls that comes off the bench. Besides his powerful dunking, he's strong at defending the paint and plays with infectious energy.
The biggest surprise for the Bulls this season has been the emergence of second-year forward Jimmy Butler. Butler is a guy that is solid in several aspects, including his efficient shooting and being able to defend several positions. His minutes have increased recently, and he's scored at least nine points in 13 of his last 14 games.
Marco Belinelli is one of the best pure shooters on the roster. Even though his shooting percentages haven't been great this season, he is currently averaging 14 points per game in the month of February.
The Bulls have four players that can make a big impact coming off the bench, and that's not even including Kirk Hinrich, who will be the backup point guard when Derrick Rose comes back.
Ever since they hired Tom Thibodeau before the 2011 season as their head coach, the Bulls have been an elite defensive team.
This season, despite all of the injuries, the Bulls are still ranked third in points given up per game. Besides having the third-best defense in terms of opponent field-goal and three-point percentage, they are the best team in the NBA in opposition assists per game.
The Bulls make it very tough to move the ball on offense, and that kills a lot of teams' offensive rhythm. The Bulls defense has looked extremely strong in 2013, allowing only four 100-point efforts in 21 January and February games.
With the Bulls succeeding as much as they have without Rose, it's time to give credit where credit is due. Yes, they have a great bench and an elite coach in Thibodeau, but they are nowhere without Luol Deng and Joakim Noah.
Both made the Eastern Conference All-Star team this season, and for good reason. Deng has turned into one of the more balanced players in the NBA. He can score (17 points per game), rebound (6.8 per game) and is a great passer for a small forward (3.1 per game). He's also an elite defender and is playing an NBA-leading 39.7 minutes per game.
Noah on the other hand, is in the midst of the best season in his career. He is averaging career bests in points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks and free-throw percentage. Noah has turned into an elite center that can make an impact on both ends of the floor.
Having three impact players on the roster will definitely help the Bulls come playoff time.
The Miami Heat and New York Knicks have been the top two teams in the Eastern Conference so far this season. However, even without Rose, the Bulls have a 4-0 record against those two teams.
The Bulls have been especially good this season against the Knicks. They've beaten them three times this season, including twice at Madison Square Garden. In both of their wins at MSG, the Bulls outlasted the Knicks with offensive firepower, scoring 108 and 110 points in each of those contests.
Given their success against the Knicks so far this season, the Bulls should be favorites against them if they were to play in a postseason series. Also, don't be surprised if the Bulls give the Heat a tough battle because of their depth.