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NBA Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls A Legitimate Contender In The East

Joakim Noah

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The once heavily favored Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat have struggled enough to make the Eastern Conference playoffs a lot more interesting than expected.

Even without Derrick Rose, a strong defense and impeccable coaching have made the Chicago Bulls that one team that nobody wants a piece of in the postseason. The Bulls have proven that they are capable of beating the best of the East with two wins against both the Heat and the Pacers.

Joakim Noah and his four triple-doubles have cemented the Bulls as the most fierce defensive team in the NBA. The Bulls play the kind of defense that forces the opponent to play down to their level, making up for their offensive deficiencies. Noah has become a leading contender for Defensive Player of the Year honors, and his ability to distribute the ball has made him one of the most dynamic players in the NBA.

Perhaps his most likeable trait is his unmatched intensity. The Bulls have a never-quit mentality that can surely wear down teams, leading to victories. Things look even better for the Bulls when you realize they have won five more games than the Heat or the Pacers since the beginning of 2014.

Taking all this into account, the No. 1 reason why the Bulls have a great opportunity to win the East is that the front-running Pacers and Heat are nowhere near as scary as they once were.

The Pacers have gone through an incredible collapse that has left coach Frank Vogel pulling at strings, including leaving his starters in during a blowout to try and motivate his players. The Pacers’ struggles have proven that they are no guarantee to win against any team in the East, and the defensive matchup that the Bulls present will make it very difficult for the Pacers to win four games against the Bulls.

One of the more fascinating aspects of the Pacers’ collapse is that they still have a half game lead in the Eastern standings. At this point last year, the Heat were flourishing with an incredible winning streak. Now, they haven’t even been able to surpass the freefalling Pacers.

With Dwyane Wade‘s health up in the air, James may be forced to throw his team on his back if he wants any chance at the three-peat. The problem is that the Bulls’ defense is capable of slowing James at times, and their size should dominate the boards.

Once an afterthought, the Bulls have become the team that everyone wants to avoid in the playoffs, and there’s good reason to believe they are more than capable of reaching the NBA Finals.

Joshua Bateman is a writer for Rantsports.com. Follow him on Twitter, “like” him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google