Luol Deng and the Chicago Bulls are riding high after defeating the Miami Heat. The victory ended Miami’s 27-game win streak, while offering insight on what they can learn as the season is in its final laps.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is doing his best keeping the team prepared and ready to play on most nights. As long as they can avoid a debacle similar to the 42-point defeat in Sacramento versus the Sacramento Kings, they will be fine.
Thus far, we have learned just how resilient they are.
When the Bulls are short-handed, instead of making excuses, they play harder than their opponents do. How else can you explain their 39-31 record? They take on the defensive identity of Coach Thibodeau.
How much resiliency they have is not the only thing we can learn from the remainder of the season. In fact, several things will be discovered by season’s end.
Injuries are crippling for most teams, the Bulls have held their own, despite the injury bug biting them. It is the hope that if “Player A” suffers a setback, “Player B” can ably step in and do his job.
First, Taj Gibson hurts his MCL then Joakim Noah has to sit with a foot injury. The next player in line is Nazr Mohammed. The Chicago-native is being asked to step up, and he has not disappointed. Averaging 5.0 PPG and 5.2 RPG in 17 MPG over the last five games, Mohammed is a suitable replacement.
With only 12 games remaining, the Bulls’ coaches have to devise a plan for Mohammed to continue to play regular minutes. Doing so will allow starting center Joakim Noah to come along slowly. This will also help Mohammed continue to snap out of his season-long slump.
Mohammed does not hurt the Bulls when he plays more than 10 minutes in a game. The Bulls are 11-7 when that happens.
Carlos Boozer is having an excellent season.
I know what many of you are thinking, “it is time to use the amnesty clause on Boozer.” What sense would it make to send a player packing who still puts up a double-double, while receiving nothing in return? It is time to find out if Boozer can help lead the Bulls to a successful run in the playoffs.
How they would do this is by putting the ball in Boozer’s hands and watching him work.
Few NBA teams have the luxury of a burly post player who can score as easily as Boozer does.
Boozer can shoot mid-range jump shots, he can score in the low block and he will get to the free-throw line. It can only happen if his teammates pass him the basketball.
Here is why the Bulls need to ride Boozer’s coattails: His career scoring average is 16.9 PPG; when Boozer has scored 17 or more points in a game, Chicago is 22-9. The Bulls can rely on him to lead them to more wins.
How the Miami Heat have been winning lately, playing the Bulls must be a cakewalk. Am I wrong? The Bulls outperformed and out-hustled the Heat. They also brought the lumber to the defending NBA champions.
Without Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli, the Bulls took Miami’s best shot and came out victorious, ending the NBA’s second-longest win streak.
This would be a signature triumph for most teams. It cannot be the case for the Bulls, though they can use it as a springboard for the rest of the season.
Wins, especially great ones, give you momentum.
The Bulls now have the propulsion needed to compete for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Of their remaining games, only three are against teams with a record better than .500. Hypothetically, if Chicago can finish 10-2, they will be in an envious position.
The Bulls signed Richard Hamilton as the answer to the ever-present question: Do the Bulls have a 2-guard? Injuries are the primary reason for Hamilton’s inadequacies during the last 15 months. Earlier in the season, he tore his plantar fascia, and it opened the door for Marco Belinelli to shine at shooting guard.
Butler has already tasted life as a starter when he replaced and injured Luol Deng for five games in January.
Do you remember when the Bulls' weakness was in their backcourt?
Having Derrick Rose at point guard is one thing. When healthy, he is a dynamic player, but he always needed a running mate.
Belinelli is a suitable choice as he can shoot, drive to the basket and create shots for others. He fits perfectly with Rose. Is he the best option at 2-guard?
Butler playing alongside Rose is a tantalizing thought.
Length, athleticism and a convalescent jump shot is what the former Marquette standout brings to the table. His defense is also incredible for someone who is in his second NBA season.
Butler, along with Belinelli, gives the Bulls a deep rotation of starter-caliber players at shooting guard. Add to the mix a healthy Richard Hamilton and the Bulls are stacked at the position.
It is feasibly the most overused topic in Chicago: Does Derrick Rose play or sit out the rest of the season?
The time is near where the Bulls must make a decision. The medical staff cleared him to return, so the choice is up to Rose. The mumbles that you hear when you talk to Bulls’ fans are wishing for him to come back now.
It is now or never for Rose.
Sadly, that sounds like an ultimatum. By proving they can compete with the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers, the Bulls are essentially placing more pressure on Rose to test his knee in a live game.
That will only come if he can trust his knee.
Keep in mind that the torn ACL Rose endured is the worst setback he has ever had. If Rose has any doubt regarding his knee, it will affect the way he runs the floor, cuts to the basket and even the lift that he puts on his shot. He would not resemble the player whom fans have come to know and love.
Why should we want to see him rush back?
Is it to witness the Bulls winning a few more games?
Can the Bulls go farther in the playoffs with him playing?
What about what is good for Rose?
Have we forgotten that the former league MVP is only 24-years old? He has at least 10 great seasons ahead of him if he avoids injuries from this point on. When a laundry list of players who could not bounce back from knee surgery includes Tracy McGrady, Brandon Roy and Grant Hill, you learn to be patient.