When the agonizingly long lockout ended, Bulls fans, players and staff had high expectations for the season. After finishing last season with a league best 62-20 record but ending on a bitter note against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, everyone was excited to see how Derrick Rose, the humble, young leader would respond.
The Bulls added NBA champion Richard Hamilton to the mix as the crafty veteran was picked up off of waivers before the season. With a short training camp and a hungry team, Christmas day could not come soon enough.
Against the Lakers, who had many questions of their own, the MVP did not disappoint. Set up by Luol Deng’s steal, the hometown hero, Rose, drove to the heart of the lane and finished with the jump-stop right-handed shot over Pau Gasol with 4.8 seconds remaining. Again the defense was key as Deng, Joakim Noah and Co. stuffed Kobe Bryant’s final attempt to win the game at the buzzer. Rose finished with 22 points and five assists as the Bulls held the Lakers to 87 points and set the tone with defense for the season.
Following a loss at Golden State, the Bulls defeated six teams in a row, highlighted by a win at the new and improved L.A Clippers. Derrick Rose put on a show scoring 29 points, dishing out 16 assists and grabbing 8 rebounds, and proving he is the league’s best point guard.
Rose’s dominance has continued as the MVP’s numbers impress, and although down a bit from last season, certainly have not inhibited the team’s record. Despite injuries to Rose, Hamilton, CJ Watson, and Deng, players have stepped up and had big games including John Lucas III, Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer and first-time all-star Luol Deng, who is pulling a Kobe and playing through the wrist injury.
The defense has also impressed, as the Bulls hold teams to league second best 87.9 points per game. Considering the fact that the Bulls have been without their leader for 10 games and have played 20 of the first 35 on the road, have still managed a 27-8 record, good enough for second in the Eastern Conference.
The main goal for the Bulls for the next half of the season and the playoffs will be to BEAT THE HEAT! Both teams expect to meet up again in the ECF’s, but first they will butt heads three more times during the regular season. With Derrick returning from the back spasms and turf toe injuries, and Joakim finally starting to bring the energy, the Bulls need to stay healthy and hit their stride going into the playoffs. The Deng led defense needs to be stalwart in order to keep pace with the high pressure Heat. If the Bulls can play smart and safe and keep the Heat in their half-court offense, the Bulls can absolutely contend with the Eastern Conference Champions.
I look forward to Hamilton, who has only played 11 games thus far, to return from the groin injury after the All-Star break, and for Derrick to take it upon himself to make his shots against the Heat toward the end all the upcoming games between the two powerhouse squads. The Bulls need to find some help for Derrick as his lack of late game heroics ended up helping solidify games for the Heat. Getting Carlos Boozer back into form, team defense, and finding 20 points a game from Deng or Hamilton are essential as the Bulls look forward to the NBA Playoffs. I Expect the Bulls to make a run at the number 1 seed to solidify home court advantage throughout the playoffs, with pressure coming from the 76ers, Pacers, Knicks and Celtics among other teams moving forward. Ultimately I think a rematch in the Eastern Conference Finals is imminent.