With 1:20 to go in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Playoff’s first round, Derrick Rose drove to the hoop, planted his feet and hit the floor. Rose tore the ACL in his left knee, all but ending the Bulls’ playoff run just as quickly as it had began.
But let’s be honest with ourselves. Did anyone really believe this was the year the Bulls would overtake the Heat in the Eastern Conference, en route to hanging banner number 7?
No. And if you say you did, you were lying to yourself.
And don’t give me that, ‘We added Rip Hamilton’ method of reasoning. Hamilton surely made us a much better team than the 2010-11 squad, but if you’ve watched even one Miami Heat game this season, you’ve noticed they, too, are a much improved team (without adding much of anything last offseason).
It seems the Heat have finally figured out how to play with each other. Last season was a constant struggle between Dwyane Wade and Lebron James, both doing their best to avoid stepping on the other’s toes.
Lebron: ‘Here, you take the ball.’
Wade: ‘No, you take it.’
Lebron: ‘Are you sure? You were here first.’
Wade: ‘But look at that guy guarding you. He can’t stop you.’
Chris Bosh: ‘Hey guys, I thought there were 3 of us?’
That right there was the Miami Heat’s 2011 season in a nutshell. But 2012 has been a 180-degree turnaround. Miami looked primed and ready to take their second consecutive trip to the Finals, even before D-Rose’s injury.
Every championship team is the beneficiary of a few breaks along the way. For Miami, their first break came in the form of a season-ending injury to the league’s reigning MVP.
With the Bulls out of the picture, Miami has a relatively easy road through the East. Boston will put up a fight if the two teams meet, but aside from the Celtics, what other team in the conference can even compete?
Of course, getting to the Finals and actually winning their first championship together are two entirely different things. Oklahoma City, San Antonio or L.A. (no, not the Clippers) won’t allow the Heat to just waltz right through the postseason.
There’s no doubt the Miami Heat took a collective sigh of relief when Rose went down. But, it shouldn’t be this easy. The road to the Finals was supposed to go through Chicago. If someone is able to knock off Miami, they’ll be in the same position next year, with Lebron desperately searching for his first NBA title to help build on his legacy, and the rest of the team trying their best to make that happen.
If Lebron and the Heat can stay ring-less for just one more season, the Bulls will be waiting. And the likeliest scenario will feature the rematch we were all hoping for, with these two teams battling it out for the conference. That’s the way it should be.
So Bulls fans, while our season is over, the NBA season is not. We’ve still got a rooting interest in this year’s playoffs.
It’s time we band together whatever energy we haven’t spent cursing Tom Thibodeau or Carlos Boozer or Watson to Asik.
Let’s put that collective energy together to root as hard as we possibly can…for the Lakers or Celtics, the Clippers or Thunder, the Pacers or Spurs, or maybe even the 76ers (except Evan Turner).
We must combine our rooting power to support anyone we possibly can…except Lebron and the Heat.