When Derrick Rose tore the ACL in his left knee in Game 1 of the opening round of the NBA playoffs last year, it not only jeopardized the Chicago Bulls’ 2011-12 season, but also put the Bulls chances this season into question.
Rose was more than an MVP and three-time All-Star for the Bulls, he was their heart and soul. Rose took over late in games and never backed down from taking the big shot down the stretch.
Despite winning Game 1 in the playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Bulls were unable to overcome the loss of their star guard and won only one of the remaining five games and were eliminated despite being the East’s top seed.
The Bulls were heading in the 2012-13 with tempered expectations. The Eastern Conference favorites were the Miami Heat, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets.
While it is difficult for a team to find the bright side of an injury like the one Rose had, the Bulls have responded better than anyone could have predicted and have grown together as a team.
Most teams missing a player as great as Rose are happy to remain at .500. We have seen the Dallas Mavericks struggle without Dirk Nowitzki and the Los Angeles Clippers struggle without Chris Paul this year.
As the season began, it became evident that the Bulls were not going to use the absence of Rose as an excuse not to win.
For the Bulls to remain a contender, it was imperative that Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Richard Hamilton all step up with Rose out. Fortunately for the Bulls and head coach Tom Thibodeau, they have done just that.
Noah is having the best season of his career. He is averaging career highs in points (16.2), rebounds (10.9) and blocks (2.1). Noah’s efforts have not gone unnoticed as he was recently named an All-Star for the first time.
Noah and Boozer have made the Bulls an extremely tough team to score against from the paint. The Bulls allow the second fewest points inside the paint in the NBA.
Hinrich has been steady and efficient at the point guard spot and Deng is playing more minutes and scoring two points more per game than he did last year.
The Bulls have improved their bench from last season as well. Jimmy Butler is a much-improved player in his second year and Taj Gibson, Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli have all contributed for the Bulls when called upon. The Bulls bench defends better has more athleticism than the 2011-12 version.
The Bulls have grown this year without Rose. Upon his return (expected sometime around the All-Star break), Rose will be rejoining a better team than he had going into the postseason last year.
In the last month, the Bulls have beaten the Heat, Knicks and Nets, the top three contenders in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls’ defense and rebounding have been amongst the best in the NBA.
Thibodeau has a better bench to work with and Rose will only improve their depth. As of Saturday, the Bulls are 26-16, only one game behind the Knicks and three games behind the Heat in the Eastern Conference.
The Heat, Knicks, Indiana Pacers and Nets will all be formidable playoff opponents but none of them will be adding the MVP of the 2010-11 season to their roster. Rose averaged 27.1 points and 7.7 assist in the 2011 NBA playoffs.
Adding a healthy Derrick Rose to a deep, versatile team that excels on the defensive side the court will make the Chicago Bulls the team to beat in the Eastern Conference as the playoffs begin.
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