Title Contender: Chicago Bulls

Last Season

Point Guard Derrick Rose asked, “Why can’t I be the MVP of the league? Why can’t I be the best player in the league?” Then he proceeded to win the Most Valuable Player award while leading Chicago to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Tom Thibodeau was an assistant coach for 27 years, and led the Bulls to the best record in all of basketball, 62-20 in his first season as a head coach. He won Coach of the Year. They were the #1 seed in the East and had home court advantage until

The Bulls were a top 3 rebounding team, as well as top 3 defensively.Power Forward Carlos Boozer and Center Joakim Noah missed most of the season. When starting shooting guard Keith Bogans scored 6 points in a game, they won. They had the deepest bench in the NBA.

Their season ended in 5 games against Miami. They didn’t have enough firepower offensively.

This Season

Tom Thibodeau is, in my opinion, is the odds-on favorite to win the Coach of the Year again. Winning the award would make Thibodeau the first back-to-back Coach of the Year in the history of the game. With a handful of games remaining, Chicago currently has the best record. They are a well-oiled machine, winning games despite injuries to several core players: the starting backcourt of the upgrade at shooting guard Rip Hamilton and reigning MVP Derrick Rose, all-star forward Luol Deng, and backup point guard CJ Watson.

Chicago is in the top 3 in rebounding, defense, and assists, and again have the deepest team in the league, courtesy of their “bench mob.” The resilient Bulls win at any means necessary, only losing back-to-back games once this year (in the regular season dating back to February 2011). They have the best record in not only the Eastern Conference, but the NBA, en route to the #1 seed and home court advantage, and the starting lineup has played a total of 7 games together.

Carlos Boozer has been the most productive power forward since the all-star break. He and Joakim Noah have been healthy, and Luol Deng has played the 2nd most minutes per game (Kevin Love edges him out).

Rip Hamilton returned last week, and Derrick Rose came back yesterday. This team will have a handful of games under their belt heading into the playoffs, most likely the #1 seed. The road is through Chicago again, and I in the camp of people that believe they are on a collision course with the Heat.

 

The Bulls were successful with Keith Bogans scoring 6 points in a game, you can imagine why they feel Rip Hamilton will provide huge dividends this time around. He is a double-digit scorer, can put the ball on the ground, distribute, and is a pest defensively. With that said, the combination of Hamilton and continued scoring by Boozer will be needed to get past the heavily-favored Miami Heat. Miami cannot defend 3-pointers, which is where CJ Watson and Kyle Korver’s efficient shooting comes into play in a 7-game series. They certainly have the advantage in depth, perimeter shooting, height clogging the lane, and are more physical.

Chris Bosh is the key to the Heat and their success, Noah and Taj Gibson have taken him out of the game and will need to do it to reach the finals. You will see Watson playing the point to give Rose a break on the court, sliding him over to shooting guard which should limit his turnovers and increase his ability to get to the charity stripe. Not only will you see dual-point guard lineups, but Chicago’s big guys are form the best passing unit, Boozer and Noah will be used in the high post to hit distribute and crash the boards after they pass.

Don’t sleep on the Bulls or fall prisoner of the moment against New York yesterday. Rose not only was rusty, but that was the first time the full roster played since the beginning of the season. As for Rose in the clutch this season, he blew free throws twice this season at the end, and as the reigning MVP they should be magnified and he should be held accountable. On the same token, he closed out most of last year, surged a comeback with a game-winner at the Lake Show on opening Christmas day, has put the nail in the coffin in the final 4 minutes more than anybody I’ve seen this season, and drilled a step-back over Brandon Jennings to beat the Bucks. It happens to the best of them. LeBron James won’t even take the shot. Kobe Bryant nailed a few game-winners, but he also missed a few resulting in a loss or overtime. You can count on Rose, and if he can count on his teammates to help score points in a series, the Chicago Bulls could be the next NBA Champions.