9:19 AM CDT, March 21, 2012
Maybe it’s me, but these last two weeks or so have to be one of the most entertaining runs during a post-Michael Bulls season that I can remember.
Not just entertaining and fun, but remarkable. I mean, the Bulls set a franchise record for defense with Carlos Boozer on the court. You see a miracle like that, and you suddenly stop laughing at the Mayan calendar.
Maybe it’s just me, but these last two weeks or so also rank among the most meaningless.
It all centers on Derrick Rose, of course. The Bulls can be interesting and entertaining without him, but they are no threat to anything important unless he’s healthy, and even that might not be enough.
Watching John Lucas III go off on Orlando was a stitch. One of the last guys on the Bulls bench was doing to the Magic exactly what the Magic needed to compete with the Bulls. But no. The Magic didn’t have the heart to come out ready and lacked the backbone to make a game of it at home.
Same game, Boozer didn’t just go for a double-double, but he went to the hoop. Went around Dwight Howard. Boozer executed actual post play and moved to the basket while mixing in his usual jumpers. He even had four steals, showing he can, indeed, fake defense.
Same game, Joakim Noah worked the pick-and-roll with Lucas, ending thunderously at the rim to posterize the slow, late and flightless Glen “Big Baby’’ Davis.
Every game, Taj Gibson working underneath, diving on the floor for loose balls and defending everywhere is to see how unsung heroes mature and how Sixth Man of the Year candidates announce themselves.
Go back to the win over the Heat. Miami put LeBron James on Lucas as if he were Rose, and there was Lucas, raising up and burying a jumper over James. The D-Leaguer pantsing the A-lister.
But look, the Heat didn’t care and the Magic are a fraud. It was good fun --- it has been good fun --- but as long as Rose is out and as long as Richard Hamilton is with him, most of this stuff is meaningless in terms of what really matters, which is winning the NBA title.
That’s the Bulls’ imagined starting backcourt we’re talking about. One guy is the reigning MVP. The other is supposed to be the difference in the Eastern Conference Finals.
That’s it right there. That’s the only part of this season that means anything. The Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat. Nobody else in the East matters. Nothing else in this season aside from good health matters.
If the NBA thinks that diminishes this season, well, tough noogies. The NBA ruined this season long ago. Almost every good player, and even some Knicks, have been hurt because the idiot in charge of the league locked out the players to force a better deal, but still didn’t wrestle control of the league from the players. I mean, one story said Howard could name his own coach and general manager, and even if it wasn’t true, nobody doubted it.
And then there’s David Stern’s embarrassing actions in killing the Chris Paul deal. The original Chris Paul deal, not the second Chris Paul deal. So many Chris Paul deals, so little NBA credibility.
The result of such ineptitude on the part of Stern and his wonks is the players’ being forced to endure a stupidly compact and injury-filled season that has a better chance of deciding the champion than the players themselves.
Presuming health, Rose's return sets off changes, starting with Lucas taking his normal seat. Thanks for playing our game, kid.
More significant is Boozer. He'll continue to start, and so will the questions. Such as, why can’t he shoot and score as well when the MVP is on the court? Heck, why can't he play as well with Rose as he does without him?
You cannot say that Rose eats up Boozer's chances to contribute. Boozer gets enough chances --- Boozer can put himself in position to get chances --- to get at least 20. What's more, if he would move to the basket when he's on the floor with Rose as often as he does without him, then he might grab 13 or 16 boards regularly.
Oh, and defense is always welcome. I don't want to harp on this guy, but the numbers force it.
The Bulls’ bench gets closer to normal upon Rose’s return, but it's still not in line. Ronnie Brewer does a terrific job of doing whatever job needs to be done, but he and the Bulls are better if he’s coming off the bench. Again, what matters is the Bulls’ big bet: Hamilton. The bench gets right when --- if? --- Hamilton ever gets out of traction or the iron lung or the body cast or whatever his ailment du jour is. Remember, Bulls fans, you can’t spell “crippled’’ with “Rip.’’
What won’t change, of course, is the Bulls’ defense. Tom Thibodeau refuses to let that change. Thibodeau refuses to let up. The defending coach of the year appears to be the leader in the clubhouse again, emphasis on defending. That’s where a lot of the entertainment comes from lately. Smothering defense leads to transition offense, and even when it doesn’t, the Bulls seem to be moving the ball better than ever in their halfcourt offense.
Maybe it’s because opponents don’t know who to target when Rose is out. More likely, however, it’s because opponents don’t take the Bulls as seriously when Rose is out. At least, that’s the way it looks to me.
Tough luck for them. Some entertainment for us. But almost all of it changes when Rose solves his wonky groin. Then it becomes full metal motivation for opponents. That's a template for what really matters.
I’m not saying you should immediately draw conclusions about the Eastern Conference Finals based on one game. I’m also not saying Rose’s return makes the Bulls an NBA champion. I am saying, however, that what we’re getting now is eye candy, and that’s it. It’s fun and interesting for what it is: just a palliative until everybody is all better and we’re finally at the end of May.
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