Chicago Bulls: Coasting to the Finish; Lack of Large Competition Hurting Them?

Steven ElonichCorrespondent IApril 12, 2011

CHICAGO - APRIL 22: Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls yells after a close play against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on April 22, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Cavaliers 108-106. 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. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Joakim Noah has had it easy the last few weeks. Other than Kevin Garnett, the Chicago Bulls have not played a formidable center since Kevin Love played his first game since coming off injury on March 30th. The Bulls were initially supposed to have a challenge to finish off the season as they played the Magic and Knicks before capping off the season against the Nets. Unfortunately for the television networks, the Magic game, although fantastically played, did not feature Dwight Howard. Tonight's game against the New York Knicks will be played without Amare Stoudemire. Is this hurting Joakim Noah's preparation for the playoffs?

The Bulls will kick off their playoff performance against the Indiana Pacers, which is not expected to be too much of a contest; the Bulls won the season series 3-1, with the one loss being their only division fault.

In the second round, the Bulls have a considerably large chance to face the Orlando Magic, but this time with big man Dwight Howard in the lineup. Can Joakim Noah handle the assignment of guarding Howard without the need of a double team so Noah's teammates can defend against the long ball? Even without Howard, the Bulls had a tough time guarding the shooters for the Magic, only winning by three due to the clock expiring a portion of a second before the Magic hit the game-tying shot.

Noah is a very crafty and pesky defender, so there is a large chance that his defense will not be rusty. Going this long without playing an opponent with all-star credibility could hurt anybody, not just Noah.

The Bulls did pull through on January 28th, when Howard scored 40, only for his team to lose 99-90 in Chicago, so maybe in the paint defense doesn't matter for the windy city. The Bulls have been questioned and doubted all year, only to post a 60-20 record to this point. They seem to thrive on being in the underdog role.

Chicago is set to take on the Stoudemire-less Knicks tonight in a game that pits two Eastern Conference playoff teams together as the Bulls shoot for the first seed in the NBA.