Despite everything that has happened this season, the Chicago Bulls own the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Injuries have really taken their toll on the Bulls this season; they have lost both Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer for lengths throughout the season. It's a lot like NBC's The Office: The cast is always shifting, but as long as the main man (Derrick Rose/Michael Scott) is around the conclusion remains the same. It was well worth the time to watch the final product.
When everything comes together the Bulls are scary good.
They boast the leading candidate for MVP in Derrick Rose with one of the best and deepest front-lines in the NBA.
There are no teams that want to see the Bulls in the Finals this season, but most of all the Los Angeles Lakers should want to avoid them.
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There are few teams in the NBA as deep from top to bottom as the Lakers are.
The Bulls are one of those teams. They go five deep in big men and have one of the biggest wing rotations in the NBA. While this doesn't mean that the Bulls bench is better, the Lakers do lose the advantage of keeping their players fresher than their opponents.
While the Lakers may have more talent coming off of the bench with Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom, the Bulls sport a larger range of players that can contribute in different ways.
While the Lakers still have a roster full of elite players in the NBA, all but four of the players on their active roster are over the age of 30 and they start only one player under 30. While the decline of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol has been greatly overstated, age never helps in the NBA. The Spurs have struggled to get over the hump ever since Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili started aging.
The Bulls on the other hand have just five players on their roster over 30 years old and they start three players under the age of 27. This will give the Bulls just younger legs in general heading into the Finals should both teams make it there.
Shutting down Kobe is like stopping Old Faithful, its just not going to happen.
There is no true way to stop Kobe Bryant, there are ways to slow him down.
Some teams and players have showed us glimpses over the past couple of years.
Have a long, athletic wing that can stay in front of him (Think Mickael Pietrus from the Magic):
The Bulls have Ronnie Brewer. Check.
Have a under-appreciated guard committed to defense (Think Bruce Bowen from the Spurs):
The Bulls have Kieth Bogans. Check.
Have a shooter Bryant has to chase around on the other end of the floor (Think Ray Allen from the Celtics):
The Bulls have Kyle Korver. Check.
While these players won't combine to shut Kobe down, they will give the Bulls the ability to stay in control of the game. Each of these players brings their own aspect of the game and Coach Tom Thibodeau has been mixing and matching his shooting guards well all season and that should continue through the playoffs.
With Noah and Boozer playing at an All-Star level together, the Bulls have one of the most intimidating front courts in the NBA.
The injuries to both of those players throughout the season have allowed the Bulls to develop impeccable depth up front.
With all of the injury problems the Bulls have seen, youngster Taj Gibson, who started much of the season last year, has become one of their most valuable assets. He stepped in to the starting line up in the beginning of the year with Boozer out and produced his usual numbers. Veteran Kurt Thomas has also filled a role on the team by providing solid defense and rebounding all season. Even expected project Omer Asik has been playing a solid 10-15 minutes a game and looking like a seasoned NBA veteran. Over the last few weeks, Asik has turned in multiple 10 rebound performances.
While the Lakers still have the imposing talent of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, the Bulls have a five deep rotation of big men they can use to combat the Lakers wealth of talent.
First, I am in no way saying that Derrick Rose is better than Kobe Bryant, but it is hard to say anyone is playing better than him right now.
Derrick Rose is the first and foremost reason why no one should want to play the Bulls in the NBA Playoffs. He has the ability to take over games with his scoring as well as his passing and that is one of the most dangerous skills a player can have.
Should this matchup happen I would love the see the Rose versus Kobe final minutes of close games because right now it is hard to find true closers in the NBA and they are two of the best.
Rose also has an advantage because he will be matched up with the Lakers point guards, their weakest position defensively.
While we may see some of Bryant and Rose guarding each other as an experiment if the teams' other defenders fail, don't assume that it will happen as both would have major problems guarding each other because of their different styles of play.