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Are the Bulls ready?










They always say when the playoffs come around the real season begins.  Yes the regular season measures how you do against the other teams, it shows your strengths and weaknesses, it evaluates you as a squad overall.  But how you finish in the regular season determines if you earn a slot in the playoffs.  For the Chicago Bulls they resolved that task weeks ago, then they went ahead and did the unthinkable.....clinch the best record overall in the NBA.  They accomplished this by beating the New Jersey Nets in their final game of the regular season.  Going in last night the Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs were even at 61-20.  After the Bulls squeaked pass the Nets 97-92, it was pretty much score board watching to see how the Spurs finish against the Phoenix Suns.  The Spurs who had the best record since the season began lost and the Bulls claimed sole possession of the best record overall and home court advantage throughout.  

Now we all know finishing with the best record doesn't necessarily mean you are the best.  Yes your record is a reflection of who you are as a team, but at the end of the day you still have to play for that championship gold.  As we know all to well having the best record doesn't guarantee you the championship either.  You will be lucky if you even reach the NBA final, ask the Cleveland Cavaliers who once upon a time was led by Lebron James......The last time the Bulls finished 62-20 was when they won their sixth and last championship back in the 97-98 season.  Of course that team was led by the infamous Michael Jordan and the odds of winning a championship under his watch was pretty high regardless if they finished with the best record or not.  As for the 2011 version of the Chicago Bulls, they don't hold that same distinction. 

Did anyone predict that the Bulls would finish the way they did?  Some circles expected improvement, there was a handful that actually felt they would of been lucky to make the playoffs.  Coming into the 2010-2011 season there were many question marks regarding this team.  Their roster returned only four players from the previous season (Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson).  Their only big name free agent acquisition was Carlos Boozer, who they didn't even have at the start of the season due to a freak accident in his home that broke his wrist and cost him 15 games.  The rest of the revamped roster were guys acquired via free-agency or trades.  The labels varied, veterans, journey men, unproven players, take your pick......To top it off they had a rookie head coach in Tom Thibodeau who for years has always had the title of assistant.  His mission was to get these guys to trust him and buy into his system.  Thibodeau had a good reputation over the years as an assistant for teams like the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, and the Boston Celtics but he never patrolled the sideline as the man.....Funny how soon after Boozer recovered from his injury, Joakim Noah suffered ligament damage on his thumb and was out for 30 games.  That just hurt the Bulls altogether because Noah was expected to back up Rose who was already a perennial all-star.  The book was already out on what they were going to get from Boozer (if he can stay on the floor long enough) and Deng came in with a lot of question marks about his health and consistent play.  Add on to the fact that the two guard situation looked like a joke when Thibodeau elected to go with Keith Bogans as his starter.  Yet with all those things against them the Chicago Bulls managed to be where they are at right now, going into the playoffs as the clear cut number 1.

Derrick Rose who fine tuned his game over the summer has been on fire.  Literally tearing defenses apart.  True Rose does look like a 2-guard masquerading around as a point guard but he has the respect and support of his teammates.  Luol Deng has stepped up this season and has been Rose's compliment.  With his length and agility he has been a constant nightmare match-up wise both offensively and defensively for many opponents this season.  Despite the injuries Noah has suffered during the season, he has been the consummate warrior.   His numbers may have dropped off a bit, but Noah manages to do what he can any given night.  Boozer has been a big plus giving that low-post presence the Bulls have been lacking for years.  A virtual double-double machine Boozer quickly fit in with the Bulls.  His defensive prowess is questionable but Thibodeau has made sure from the get go that Boozer didn't slack in that area.  Speaking of coach Thibodeau, he has done an incredible job changing the culture of the Bulls.  Thibodeau has always been heralded for being a defensive guru.  His blue print was on that championship Celtic team back in '08.  Thibodeau has done a good job of cleaning out the bad habits that have been plaguing the Bulls for the past two seasons and that has been inconsistent play.  It may rear its ugly head at times, but the Bulls are finishing their games way better.  Kurt Thomas and second year forward Taj Gibson stepped up big time during the absences of Noah and Boozer.  Ronnie Brewer plays tenacious defense and Kyle Korver has contributed nicely with his dead on shooting.  C.J. Watson has shown his versatility by backing up Rose or playing alongside him in the back court.  Rookie center Omer Asik is just a beast around the basket.  In the day and age that 7-footers are a rarity in the NBA, this skinny kid from Turkey plays real big.  From top to bottom this is a real team and not many other franchises can really say that.

So with the Bulls surpassing many expectations they at least have a couple more to address going into the playoffs.  First they have to advance out of the first round.  Something they haven't been able to do in the past couple of seasons.  I know their is a huge difference between those squads that each finished  at 41-41 opposed to this years squad.  But they still have to go further then what they have done previously.  Also with the Bulls holding the best record can they at least make it to the NBA final much less win it.  These are questions the Bulls will have to answer when they begin their first round match-up against the number 8-seed Indiana Pacers Saturday afternoon.  Are they ready to take it to the next level?....nuff said




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