Why You Can't Count the Chicago Bulls Out Come Playoff Time

James Davis@@JDouglasDavisAnalyst IDecember 11, 2013

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 5:  Taj Gibson #22 and Tony Snell #20 of the Chicago Bulls high five each other in the game against the Miami Heat on December 5, 2013 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Even though the Chicago Bulls' title hopes went down with point guard Derrick Rose's meniscus injury, this team remains a legitimate spoiler in the Eastern Conference.

Without its MVP, it lacks the firepower needed to sustain a deep playoff run, but the team that remains is still talented and relentless enough to make any other contender's championship quest all the more difficult.

Of course, this is all contingent on whether or not the front office decides against making any major transactions.

Given the conservatism it's demonstrated in the past, that's a very likely scenario.

So, let's project into the NBA postseason.

How can a Rose-less Bulls team be a threat to any of its East counterparts?

Don't Let the Current State of Things Fool You

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 5:  Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls grabs a rebound against the Miami Heat on December 5, 2013 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this p
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Adjusting to life without its marquee player has been difficult; however, it would be foolish to think that the struggles are going to last.

The rest of the Bulls' core remains intact. It has been down this avenue before, and it's only a matter of time before it figures out how to get right again.

Remember, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson were there to help Chicago win 18 of the 27 games the team played without Rose during the tumultuous lockout season of 2011-12.

This is the same group that helped the team overachieve and not only make the playoffs last season but secure a No. 5 seed and a first-round series victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

Win without Rose?

Been there. Done that.

There is a lot of basketball left in this season, and given the woeful state of the Eastern Conference, Chicago will have enough time to find its sans-Rose rhythm at just the right time—the playoffs.

Opponents' Postseason Problems

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 07: Tony Snell #20 of the Chicago Bulls looks to pass while guarded by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope #5 of the Detroit Pistons on December 7, 2013 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and a
Ray Amati/Getty Images

So, the Bulls are missing the player that makes them a contender; it does not necessarily follow that they also cease to be winners.

In fact, there are quite a few things that this squad does well enough to make it the group that no one wants to draw in the postseason.

Currently, Chicago is third in points allowed and opponent's field-goal percentage.

Defense is the foundation upon which everything is built, with or without Rose.

While it may struggle to score without its dynamic shot creator in the rotation, Chicago will also see to it that the other team struggles to score as well.

It is this facet of the game that always gives it a chance to beat even the mightiest opponents.

On the other side of the ball, there are some budding positives that will help fill some of the void left by Rose's sudden departure.

The combined emergence of Gibson, Mike Dunleavy and Tony Snell is giving the Bulls a new offensive dynamic.

Gibson has improved his post play tremendously this season, especially on the right block.

Dunleavy is starting to find his groove, averaging 10.9 points and shooting 44 percent from the field since the Rose injury.

The biggest surprise has been the play of the rookie.

Snell has been tapped to start the last seven games for Chicago and has responded tremendously, giving the team 10.7 points, 2.1 assists and 38.7 percent from behind the three-point line.

If the level of play among these guys continues, the Bulls can establish an inside-out attack that can vex even most dogged defenses.

The Sum of These Parts

Put all of these factors together, and you have a Chicago team that can shock a more evenly matched team if it falls into that No. 4 or No. 5 seed again or wear a higher-ranked team down enough to assure its elimination in the next round.

One can look to the December 5 contest against the Miami Heat for an example of how well this team can play when motivated.

If that same intensity is brought into a playoff series, it could be doom in the making for the adversary.

Even if a team is able to eliminate Chicago, it will have been in a fight so intense that it wouldn't be out of line to question whether the victor could go through it again and still come out on top.

Given the woeful play of the other Eastern Conference teams, there is a possibility that the Bulls make it to—and advance in—the 2014 playoffs.

That would pit them against one of the likely top seeds, which include the aforementioned club from Miami and the Indiana Pacers.

Last year, the Heat downed the Bulls in a quick but hard-fought series that only went five games. They then moved on to an epic seven-game series where they edged the Pacers on their way to championship No. 2.

If history were to repeat itself, could Miami do it again against a rejuvenated, improved Indiana squad?

Chances are if either of these teams faces the Bulls before facing each other, the edge would favor whomever had the luck of not playing Chicago.

So while the chase for their seventh championship has been placed on hold again, the Bulls can still leave their mark on the league this season.

It's too bad that the mark has to be a blemish on someone else's title quest.

Note: All statistics current as of December 11, 2013


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