NBA Chicago Bulls

Five Reasons Why Chicago Bulls Will Win the Eastern Conference

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Five Things That Need to Go Right for the Chicago Bulls to Win the East

Mike Dinovo-USA Today Sports

You can’t replace Derrick Rose; you can’t replace arguably the best point guard in the NBA and all the athleticism and excitement and fandom and intrigue that comes with him. If you try, you’ll probably end up sad.

If a guy that good goes missing, especially for as (inexplicably) long as Rose has, inserting a replacement-level point guard to do his job isn’t a solution. He won’t distribute the ball with the same efficiency, won’t play defense with the same tenacity, and won’t do anything Derrick Rose does as well as Derrick Rose does it. This is, of course, all obvious to you and, hopefully, to NBA coaches. Duh. Fortunately for the Chicago Bulls, coach Tom Thibodeau’s done a super job of mixing and matching to sustain Chicago’s success.

After a 45-37 season suffocated by beat-writers’ exhalations of hot air about Rose’s return, the Bulls find themselves in the same spot they did last year, the year before that, and the three years before that. The Bulls are actually in a better position than three of those years — their derriere is in the driver’s seat and they lead the New Jersey Nets 3-2 in the first round of the playoffs. Despite their ensconced rump, though, more injuries have plagued Chicago while teams like the Miami Heat have fielded (courted?) and continue to field a healthy roster in these playoffs.

Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are both dealing with minor leg injuries, and Kirk Hinrich is in a walking boot. Hinrich’s replacement, Nate Robinson, was forced to an unreasonably high 43 minutes Monday — a recipe for further aches and pangs. In other words, Chicago is no stranger to injuries even aside from Rose. They take pride in the complexities of their defensive schemes and idiosyncratic energy signatured by Noah’s eccentricity, but at what point does a simple lack of personnel supersede even the most stellar game-plan?

Here are the things that must go right for Chicago to win the East.

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Adhering to the Defensive Scheme

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After Monday’s 110-91 loss to the Nets, Center Nazr Mohammad told the New York Times the Bulls “had to do the game plan a little better.” When bench players are thrust into increased responsibilities, it’s easy for the natural and consistent structure to shake a bit. Given the Bulls’ strict and unique defense, they have to polish themselves and play like the usual defense did all season.

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Nate Robinson Staying Hot

Mike Dinovo-USA Today Sports

Nate Robinson’s on fire. During the regular season he shot 43.3% from the field, 40.5% from beyond the arc, and averaged 13.1 PPG. In these playoffs, he’s increased his shot attempts by two per game and is shooting the lights out. He’s hitting 54.4% from the floor and is sharpshooting in intermittent spurts. He’s only at 33.3% from three-point land in the playoffs, but if that improves he’ll continue to be a solid outside scorer to complement Noah and Boozer. Let’s just hope the minutes don’t take a toll on his 5’9”, 180-pound frame.

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Carlos Boozer's Rebounding

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In both losses to the Nets, Boozer and Noah have been out-rebounded by Reggie Evans and crew. The Bulls roster relies a lot on its two main big men to do a majority of the glass-eating, so Boozer will have to hit it hard — especially with Noah ailing. With the Miami Heat's athleticism and speed, rebounds will be the key to slowing down the pace and keeping a flow beneficial to Chicago. Half-court sets and a lot of Chicago ball-possession are what the Bulls need to set up their defense.

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Jimmy Butler's Defense

Mike Dinovo-USA Today Sports

If Chicago gets past New Jersey, they’ll be playing Miami. Miami wins through its athleticism, speed, and fast breaks. If Boozer and Noah can’t eat up the glass, Chicago’s only hope is guys like Butler keeping up with super-athletes LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

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Joakim Noah

Anthony Gruppuso-USA Today Sports

Noah is the best player on the Rose-less Bulls. For Chicago to get past Miami he’ll have to team up with Boozer to dominate Bosh and co. on the glass. Unlike with Boozer, Noah’s scoring is emphasized in the Bulls offense. The battle between him and Bosh (if Chicago advances) could be the most intriguing and edgy spectacle of the series. If he avoids aggravating his leg and uses his days off to heal, Noah’s the way the Bulls pass Miami and whomever they face after that.

Follow writer Nick Tom on Twitter @NickTomFB