For a team without an established superstar in the lineup, what the Chicago Bulls have already accomplished would be heralded as a tremendous feat of sheer will and determination, carried out by a squad of team players with no desire to make an early exit from championship contention.
Fortunately for the Bulls, they do have a superstar. And just as unfortunately, that superstar is still watching from the bench.
As unfair as it may seem to a team that has played perhaps the most inspired basketball of the postseason, the Bulls have little chance of besting the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs without Derrick Rose in the lineup. Injuries and illness took their toll in the opening round against the Brooklyn Nets, and while Chicago escaped its first big challenge of the postseason, the effects of those setbacks will certainly be felt on short rest.
Despite continued discomfort from plantar fasciitis, Joakim Noah powered through the first round with a little help from Carlos Boozer—completing a frontcourt tandem that matches up well against the Heat. It remains to be seen if Noah can reproduce that exuberance in the second round, though he’ll be facing a Miami team coming off extended rest after a four-game demolition of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Noah’s first-round success was encouraging, but the loss of Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng certainly was not. Hirich with a calf injury and Deng recently released from the hospital, the Bulls could be without two of their best perimeter scorers when the second round commences Monday night, and there’s no guarantee either player will be at full strength by Wednesday night’s contest (via the Chicago Tribune).
With a glaring lack of depth—and the loss of their leading regular-season scorer—the Bulls will be in dangerous territory against the Heat’s talented perimeter scorers. Depth can’t be manufactured overnight, but the void can still be filled.
Chicago needs a jolt of new life to have a chance against the Heat, and Rose can provide that and a lot more. Should he return for even half the series, the Eastern Conference playoffs will get much more interesting.
And according to Nick Friedell of ESPN, the superstar hasn’t ruled out the possibility of making his triumphant return in the series:
Nick Friedell @NickFriedell
Rose speaks again. Says he sill hasn't ruled out playing. "It's still up in the air"2013-5-6 15:09:50
That isn't particularly new banter from Rose and the Bulls organization. Since he was cleared to return to action in March, Rose has fielded question after question regarding his availability and willingness to return, answering each with the same explanation involving his readiness and comfort level.
Like it or not, Rose is making what he feels is the best long-term decision for both himself and his team, and the time for second-guessing his decision has passed. None of this is on Rose or Tom Thibodeau or the Bulls organization.
But the facts remain.
Chicago finished the regular season 29th in the league in points per game (93.2). In their opening series against the Nets, the Bulls scored 97.4 points per game, but excluding a 142-point performance in triple-overtime of Game 4, they scored more than 91 points just once.
The Bulls can’t afford that kind of marginal offensive output against the Heat in this series—not only because of Miami’s scoring prowess, but also because it has held opponents to the fifth-lowest scoring average in the league this season (95 points per game).
With injuries and illness mounting, the Bulls simply can’t afford to not have Rose for this series.
There’s certainly no guarantee the 24-year-old will be enough to upend the best squad in the Eastern Conference, but for the Bulls to have even a chance, Rose must make his triumphant return to the court. As valiantly as Chicago has battled in the postseason, determination isn’t always enough to trump superior talent.