Despite innumerable obstacles that would have sent most teams packing in short order, the Chicago Bulls traveled to the Barclays Center for a do-or-die matchup with the Brooklyn Nets and proved they are worthy of a second-round playoff berth.
With Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich sidelined, Derrick Rose still out of the picture and Joakim Noah hobbled with a foot injury, the Bulls entered Saturday’s contest facing overwhelming odds. It was Noah, however, who stepped up when Chicago needed him most.
The 6’11” center—who is still battling the effects of plantar fasciitis—posted his fourth double-double of the series with a 24-point, 14-rebound performance that boosted the Bulls to a crucial 99-93 victory over the Brooklyn Nets, completing one of the most impressive first-round triumphs of the postseason.
But it won’t get any easier from here.
The Bulls evaded a first-round exit, but a rested Miami Heat team awaits in Round 2—a Heat squad that ripped through the opening round in four games by an average margin of 14.8 points. With some extra time off and few injuries to speak of, Miami may present a nearly insurmountable task.
Chicago played Miami well in the regular season (2-2), including a 101-97 victory on March 27 that snapped the Heat’s 27-game winning streak. But the postseason is a different animal, and the Bulls aren’t exactly in the best shape right now.
In order to have a chance in the second round, Chicago has to continue fighting through the setbacks and find a way to get its best players back on the court. The Bulls present a difficult matchup for LeBron James’ squad, but it won’t be easy without a healthy roster and the same tenacity that earned them another shot at postseason glory.
Chicago vs. Miami Round 2 Schedule
Game 1 (at Miami): Monday, May 6, at 7 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 2 (at Miami): Wednesday, May 8, at 7 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 3: Friday, May 10, at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
Game 4: TBA
Game 5 (at Miami): TBA
Game 6: TBA
Game 7 (at Miami): TBA
Television: All playoff games on TNT, ABC or ESPN
Mobile: NBA Mobile
Return of the Prodigal Son?
So much has been said of Rose’s unwillingness to return to the court as his team battled through the first round. Despite receiving medical clearance to return to action in early March, the superstar has remained on the sidelines, left to watch his team pull off both a late-season push for the playoffs and an inspiring seven-game victory in the opening round.
The point guard has made his decision, though. While he hasn’t been officially ruled out for the series against the Heat, the writing is on the wall. Rose won’t see the court in Round 2.
As Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix suggests, his potential decision to remain on the bench against the Heat could put a lot of pressure on Rose—pressure he has become accustomed to in his efforts to recover from an ACL tear last postseason:
According to an ESPN report, the 24-year-old cites a loss of muscle memory that is making him more apprehensive to return. As if there weren’t already enough indication he wouldn’t be back, Turner Sports’ Rachel Nichols quoted Rose as saying he wants to return but there’s something holding him back:
I was able to speak with Derrick off-camera a couple days ago, and he's telling me how badly he does want to be out there, but he says that he just doesn't have the muscle memory back, is the way he put it.
Whatever the case may be, the point guard has found all the reasons to not make his triumphant comeback this season. Don’t expect him to change his mind, even if Chicago manages to take this series to six or seven games.
Prediction: Rose won’t return this season. Miami wins the series in six games.
Miami has a clear advantage along the perimeter in this series, especially with Hinrich and Deng potentially out for Game 1, but the Bulls have matched up well with James and company this year for a reason.
Noah and Carlos Boozer each put their stamp on the opening round with some terrific performances that boosted the Bulls past the Nets in stunning fashion. The frontcourt duo combined for 41 points and 21 rebounds in Game 7, each playing a pivotal role in neutralizing a sharpshooting offensive attack from the Nets.
In order for Chicago to have similar success against the Heat, Boozer and Noah must continue to dominate in the paint and offset Miami’s tremendous perimeter play from James, Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade. The Bulls simply don’t have the manpower to combat the trio with their backcourt, especially with Rose still on the shelf.
Chicago’s frontcourt has to continue to set the pace, primarily on the boards. The Heat finished the regular season last in the league in rebounds (38.6 per game), and the Bulls can’t afford to give them extra scoring opportunities.
Look for the frontcourt duo to continue its impressive postseason performance in Game 1 to set the tone for the series.
Game 1 Prediction: Boozer (21 points, 12 rebounds), Noah (18 points, 13 rebounds) in a 96-89 loss.