What a season it has been for the Chicago Bulls. Dealing with several key injuries, most notably to star guard Derrick Rose, they have had to depend on toughness and physical play to get every win possible.
The first round isn’t too concerning for Chicago, as they should be able to outlast the Nets and physically handle them without any huge problems. The Nets have been inconsistent this year, as have the Bulls, but come playoff time coach Tom Thibodeau will be the difference maker.
It will be a much tougher task moving on into the second round against the Miami Heat, assuming the Bulls take care of business against the Milwaukee Bucks. If their playoff series is anything like the regular season matchups they’ve played, this series may be one of the most physical and entertaining series in history.
In order to beat the Heat and move on, the Bulls will have to take care of a couple tall tasks. The two most important players for Chicago heading into the postseason will be Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler. Yes, Carlos Boozer is a great player and has been consistently good all year long. However, the guys who will make the biggest difference will be Deng and Butler.
Against Miami, Deng and Butler will be responsible for matching up with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. As they proved a few days ago, the Bulls are up to the challenge. Deng and Butler are extremely underrated defenders and aren’t huge names being tossed around often by the media. But make no mistake, they play physical and they play to win.
Both Deng and Butler are athletic, long and strong players defensively. Is it any wonder Butler turned out this way playing behind Deng for two years? It makes sense, and it’s just how Thibodeau envisioned it to happen.
Offensively, the two of them present problems as well. Deng is a great slasher with the ball, getting to the rim and finishing. He also has the ability to knock down shots outside the paint, including a three ball from time to time.
Butler on the other hand does a lot of his damage inside the paint off of his offensive rebounding. Butler has the highest points scored per offensive rebound in the NBA. Didn’t know that? Exactly. Not many people would believe a stat like that at first. However, Butler is a phenomenal rebounder and finisher. Like Deng, he has developed a three point shot when needed as well, so do not overlook that part of his game.
In the paint, Boozer and forward Taj Gibson have been great together this year in spite of Joakim Noah‘s absence. If and when Noah can return, they will be set up to dominate the paint against a weaker Chris Bosh and a few other rotation players. Both Noah and Gibson are unstoppable on the boards when at their best, and Boozer is known to get himself those consistent double-doubles. Defensively, there may not be a better tandem of shot blockers than Noah and Gibson when they are playing lights out. The Bulls front court is going to set them up for success come playoff time.
The question everyone seems to keep asking is whether or not Rose will come back and when. Right now, if the Bulls are smart, they will disregard that issue and focus on what they have to work with. Thibodeau will be prepared to play the entire season without his superstar, and the players should be too. They have proven they can be a problem to any team when playing their style of physical play and defense. Worrying about Rose will only distract them from the goal at hand, and that is to win an NBA Championship.
Chicago Bulls. Miami Heat. I’m ready for playoff basketball, are you?