Are the Chicago Bulls primed for a deep playoff run?
Conventional wisdom says they do not have the offensive talent needed to advance in the postseason. On the surface, that assessment is correct when you take into consideration that they average just 93.6 points per game, which puts them at the bottom of the league in this category. However, things are not always as black and white as they seem and there are few reasons why a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals is not out of the question for this team.
Ability to succeed despite loss of key personnel
The 2013-14 season was supposed to mark the return of the team’s marquee player in Derrick Rose, who sat out last year with a torn ACL in his left knee. But 10 games into the season, Rose suffered another season-ending injury when he tore the meniscus in his right knee against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 22 (see the video clip below).
The Bulls went on to lose that game 98-95, snapping a five-game winning streak.
Chicago’s season went into a tailspin over the next several weeks as the team produced only eight victories in the next 23 contests—giving them a 14-18 record in early January. Then, on Jan. 7, the team suffered another setback as Luol Deng, who was often referred to as the glue that held the team together by head coach Tom Thibodeau, was dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers after reportedly turning down a three-year extension worth $30 million.
At that point, some of the talk around town began to focus on whether the Bulls should tank the season to improve their chances of securing a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft. As you can imagine, this was the furthest thought from the minds of proud players such as Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler. Not only did the team refuse to feed into that kind of talk, they began doing something that didn’t seem feasible—winning games, and a lot of them.
In fact, since the Deng trade, the Bulls have compiled a 34-16 record following their loss the Charlotte Bobcats on Apr. 16—enabling them to finish in fourth in the conference playoff race.
This is no small feat considering where the team was coming into 2014.
Peaking at the right time
After the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers faced off in the Eastern Conference Finals last year, most people expected these two teams to square off again in the Eastern Conference Finals this season, and rightfully so. However, while both teams finished in the top two spots as expected, neither club has played that well as of late.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at these numbers: Coming into March, the No. 1 seeded Pacers were 44-13, but they have won just 12 times in their last 25 outings. The Miami Heat came into March with a 41-13 record, but have posted just 13 wins in their last 28 games, including three consecutive losses to the Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards and the Philadelphia 76ers, per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Meanwhile, the Bulls are 16-8 over the same stretch of time and have won eight of their last 10 contests. These numbers are important because the teams that are playing well heading into postseason generally have a better chance of putting together a solid playoff run. With the best two teams not playing in top form, it shouldn’t be a surprise if the Bulls were able to beat either of them in a seven-game series en route to the conference finals.
Tough-minded, confident approach
The Bulls have certainly enjoyed a successful season, but their approach to each game does not change regardless of the opponent.
As ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell explains, Taj Gibson offered this perspective with regards to the upcoming playoffs:
“We really can’t look forward to the future. You’ve got to look at who’s in front of you. Because any kind of little thing teams can feed off of, they’ll use it against you. We don’t want to give anybody any kind of extra confidence, any kind of extra juices. We’re just focused on ourselves, just getting ready to play some tough-nosed, (rugged) basketball. We understand the stakes. We understand what it’s about.”
In addition to that, the Bulls believe in themselves as well as the principles instilled in the players by coach Thibodeau.
That sentiment is reflected in the following statement by Jimmy Butler, per ESPN:
“It really don’t matter who we play. We think we can beat anybody, so whoever we match up against, we’re going to take that matchup and try to get through them.”
That being said, a confident team that has defied the odds all season and is playing its best basketball at the just the right time, makes Chicago a formidable opponent in the playoffs regardless of who they play and when.
James Tillman is a Staff Writer for HoopsHabit.com and a sports contributor for Football Nation and Sports Kings/Pass The Pill. James is also a former Featured Sports Contributor for Yahoo! Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JTILLMAN9693.