NBA Sunday: Can Bulls Still Contend?
Can Chicago Still Contend Without D-Rose?
The Chicago Bulls were 18-9 this season without Derrick Rose, which, based on winning percentage, still would’ve made them one of the best teams in the NBA this season. They’re a great defensive team, are run by one of the smartest coaches in the game, and have proven all year long that they can beat tough opponents even without Rose not in uniform.
But the postseason is an entirely different animal, and after it was revealed Saturday evening that Rose had torn his ACL and would miss the rest of the postseason, understandable speculation began to swirl that the team wouldn’t have any opportunity to win a championship without last season’s MVP. Few doubt Chicago, up 1-0 in their series against the Sixers, can still topple Philadelphia, but beyond that it’s hard to tell.
Assuming Chicago does win its first round series against Philadelphia, their next opponent will be either Boston or Atlanta, both of which suddenly look quite a bit more formidable now that the Bulls don’t have Rose in the lineup. Despite that fact, Rose didn’t play in three of the team’s four matchups with the Celtics this year, and Chicago still managed to win two of those. Rose only missed one of the team’s four games against the Hawks, but again, Chicago won that contest despite their starting point guard’s absence.
The bigger concern, however, is what happens to the Bulls should they advance to the Eastern Conference Finals—which some believe they can still do—only to face the formidable Miami HEAT. As we were reminded in Saturday’s Game 1 between the HEAT and New York Knicks, LeBron James is the likely MVP and the rest of that team can be scary when they’re rolling. Chicago would struggle mightily in that series, despite the fact that they’ve already beaten Miami twice this season, both times without Derrick Rose in the lineup.
Those wins won’t matter when the intensity of the playoffs kicks in and Miami gets serious in a seven-game series. It’s hard to imagine a Rose-less Chicago beating the HEAT four times out of seven in the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s not quite as hard to envision them making those Conference Finals in the first place, however, and that might be the good news for Bulls fans hoping to salvage something respectable from a 2012 postseason that already has a huge black cloud hanging over it.
The Chicago Bulls are no longer serious contenders for the NBA championship, and there’s no telling what this injury will to do Derrick Rose long-term. However if the team does manage to weave its way through the postseason next year and contend once again, a deep playoff run now would certainly be educational for the supporting cast.
This hurts not just Bulls fans but basketball fans in general, and you can bet that Chicago will be a team folks root for, at least a sympathetic favorite for the next couple of rounds. Hope is lost, but not all of it. A return to the Eastern Conference Finals might be the best Chicago can hope for now, but to be fair, that might have been where their season ended even if Derrick hadn’t hurt his knee.
Other Thoughts From Day 1 of the Postseason
While Derrick Rose’s injury was clearly the biggest news of the day, the other three Game 1’s on the schedule yesterday left us with plenty to talk about, too:
- The majority of the thoughts and prayers were being sent Rose’s way yesterday, but there was no shortage of player concern for New York Knicks rookie Iman Shumpert, who also tore his ACL in a blowout loss to the Miami HEAT Saturday afternoon. . Both players are on 6-8 month (at least) recovery schedules, and these two major injuries in the first two games of the postseason—neither of which came as the result of any contact—brings to light all the fears we head about this compressed schedule before the season began. Keep in mind that it was the players who pushed to squeeze more games in so they could recoup an extra couple of paychecks over the course of the season. The NBA didn’t do this to the players; the players did this to themselves, and now their bodies are starting to pay the price. Day 1 of the playoffs is supposed to be an exciting, positive, hopeful day, and it was marred by not one but two player tragedies. Truly unfortunate, and I’m sure I speak for the rest of HOOPSWORLD in wishing both Shumpert and Rose as speedy recovery.
- About that Miami blowout, how about LeBron James on Saturday? Maybe shaving that beard was what he needed to be a more dominant postseason player, or maybe it’s just easier for him to dominate when there’s no chance Miami is going to lose. Whatever the reason, it will be interesting to see if he keeps this up the rest of the postseason, but if he does there aren’t a lot of teams that are going to have a shot at stopping LeBron from winning his first ring.
- As much as we’ve considered the Eastern Conference the stronger conference for a couple of years now, the loss of Rose and Dwight Howard, the inexperience of Indiana, and the rickety joints of Boston certainly have paved the way for another Miami trip to the Finals. Does any other Eastern Conference team have enough to stop the HEAT? Don’t get it twisted—one of the big reasons the NBA Finals broke viewership records was because so many people wanted to see Miami lose, not because millions of fans wanted to see Dirk finally take home a championship. It’s starting to look like the only teams that could stop Miami are in the Western Conference. It’s on you, Oklahoma City and San Antonio.
- So much for the “epic” LeBron vs. Carmelo match-up. This was easily the most anticipated game of the day yesterday, and it really disappointed. Anthony shot 3-for-15, Tyson Chandler played a little sluggish while fighting the flu, and of course there was the whole Shumpert thing. Not a good day for New York. Jeremy Lin is reportedly closing in on a return a little faster than expected, but it’s still pretty questionable that he’ll make it back for this series. He saved them once this season when they needed him most; can he make it back in time to do it again?
- Those that read Bill Simmons know about the “Ewing Theory,” which suggests a team can actually play better after its best player goes down with an injury. It’s named after Ewing because both his Georgetown and Knicks teams arguably played better when he was either injured or sitting because of foul trouble. It’s actually happened a lot over the years with other players and teams, which is why Simmons likes to bang the Ewing Theory joke into the ground, but the idea has been passed around that the Orlando Magic could be a candidate for it this year. The team’s Game 1 win in Indiana certainly lent some early credence to that, as they held the Pacers scoreless in the last four minutes of the game to eke out a victory. It’s unwise to conclude too much from one game, but could the Ewing Theory be in play here? Is it negated since Ewing is actually an assistant coach with the Orlando Magic? However you spin it, this might be a much more competitive series than we originally expected.
- Thank you, Kevin Durant, for reminding us at the end of a very frustrating day of NBA basketball why were so excited about the playoffs in the first place. What a great game that Dallas/OKC contest was, with great players making great plays throughout a fourth quarter that left fans’ stomachs in knots. There’s nothing more exciting than the best scorer in the league holding the ball in his hands with 8 seconds left while Shawn Marion, easily an All-Defensive first-teamer, smothers the guy. What a great shot, and what a great game. Let’s hope we see more of that kind of thing and fewer horrible injuries.
All this, and we haven’t even seen Grizzlies vs. Clippers yet. They’re on last today (9:30 pm ET, TNT), but Sunday also brings us Jazz vs. Spurs (1:00 pm ET, ESPN), Nuggets vs. Lakers (3:30 pm ET, ABC), and Celtics vs. Hawks (7:00 pm ET, TNT). There’s already so much to talk about, and we’re only getting started.
How Portland Fell Apart
Nobody covers the Portland Trail Blazers better than the Oregonian’s Jason Quick, so when it comes time to dismantle how the Blazers fell apart this year, nobody would know better than him.
Still, it was surprising—pleasantly so, actually—to read that when former Portland head coach Nate McMillan was fired, Quick cornered LaMarcus Aldridge and lambasted him for not being enough of a leader in the locker room to stifle the complaints of players who pushed one of the best coaches in the league out the door.
“I told him that I was disappointed in him,” Quick writes. “I said that part of the responsibility of being a star is leading. I expected him to tell Felton to zip it when the point guard was making his poisonous locker room rounds. I expected him to tell Crawford to quit worrying about where he was playing and focus on how he was playing. As not only a star but an All-Star, it was his job to get guys focused on the team.”
Aldridge tried to defend himself, responding, “I went to everybody, and I said what you are saying. I went as far to say, ‘Look, we’re not playing for (McMillan), let’s play for each other.’ The thing about when you say how stars or the main guys have to do that — these guys were telling me all the right (expletive). I went to Ray and I’m like, ‘Hey, forget Nate. I know you don’t like him, but let’s play. Do you want to be here for five years? Then show us.’
“And to me, (Felton) was like, ‘I’m with you.’ So the stuff you are saying I should have done, I did. But they are like, ‘Oh yeah, oh yeah,’ then it was like you say: They go in their little corner and they are like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ I don’t know what they are saying, but they are probably saying that they told me this, but they are going to do something else. I even challenged ‘Mal (Crawford). I was like, ‘I know you aren’t playing (shooting guard), but just play basketball. You love basketball; just play.’”
It’s an uncannily personal response from an NBA player, which is something we don’t often see. In his article, Quick felt like Aldridge’s efforts weren’t enough, and that Wes Matthews might eventually be the more effective locker room leader, but this openness and honesty from Aldridge is really commendable. Portland has a lot of work to do this offseason, including getting the injured Aldridge healthy, but let’s be clear that it’s not his fault everything fell apart up there. Maybe he could’ve done something more to get his teammates in line, but Aldridge himself was never the problem.
However Quick’s readers feel about his stance on the subject, the article is an excellent one and worth the full read. Jamal Crawford will opt out, Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby are gone, and there will likely be a new coach in place come autumn. Plenty of changes are on deck for Portland; hopefully they’re significant enough to change the culture of the organization.