NBA: Bulls, Noah set for playoffs
When Derrick Rose went down again 10 games into this season, Bulls fans everywhere thought all hope was lost. With Rose just coming back from his 2012 ACL injury, a new injury was the last thing on everyone’s mind. The Bulls were glad to have their superstar back, and now they had to go through the heartbreak, loss, and frustration all over again.
The heartbreak was not only felt by the fans. Teammates were quoted saying they had to “mourn” the loss of Rose. Following his meniscus tear, they went on two four-game losing streaks. The media was thinking in terms of calling the current season a loss, looking to next season when Rose would be back and they could actually compete. There was even talk of tanking for a lottery pick.
The Bulls players were forced to deal with “loss” again on January 7th, when long-time Bulls superstar and 4th all-time leading scorer Luol Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for essentially nothing. Chicagoland now truly believed that their team had nothing left, as their two stars were gone.
But something changed after those losses. The team as a collective unit decided to pick up the pieces and make the most of what they had left. Since the last four game skid, the Bulls have lost consecutive games only one time.
Not only does this attest to the collective team mentality and toughness, but the ability of individual players to step up and perform at a new level. Emerging as the team lightning bolt was Joakim Noah. Previously self-described as “not gifted” and described by many as unathletic, Noah has become arguably the NBA’s most tenacious defender. The second half of the season he was even showing offensive playmaking and scoring capabilities, with his shot named the “Tornado”. The real spark he provides, however, lies in his attitude. It is rare to see him not cheering, yelling, jumping up and down during a game- he does whatever he can so everyone, including fans, can feed off his boundless energy. Many have called him the undeniable “emotional heart and soul of the team”.
Noah is not the only one to step up. Sixth man Taj Gibson has become an essential part of the lineup, averaging 13.2 points off the bench. The Bulls now boast the best defense in the league, allowing only 91.8 points per game. This is essential to their success, as they are last in the league in scoring. Since Rose and Deng are gone, they are forced to share the scoring load, and six players are averaging double digit points. On any given night, one of these scorers can become the go-to man.
With everyone stepping up, who deserves the praise? Many believe it is Coach Tom Thibodeau. He has taken a “no-name” lineup and turned it into a team that not only plays for the love of the game, but for each other and the heralded basketball city of Chicago. Thibodeau has stated “When you have a group of guys that are willing to sacrifice what may be best for them for what’s best for the team, that’s when something special can happen.” This team-first mentality is no coincidence, and neither is the success that has followed these beliefs.
The Bulls are extremely confident going into the playoffs, where they are projected to finish third or fourth in the Eastern Conference. They could potentially play the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, but no one in the East is eager to play this emotional Bulls team in any round.
If one were to flashback and ask Chicago fans after the loss of Rose, where they saw the team finishing this year, almost 100% would believe that the Bulls had no chance of making the playoffs. Now, following a little change in play and a lot of change in heart, Bulls fans everywhere are believing.
Note: The Bulls finished up the regular season last night against Charlotte, and are slated to begin playoffs April 20th at the United Center; official matchup and game-time TBA.