In 2012, if you had asked a Bulls diehard what his biggest fear was, he’d probably say that Derrick Rose, in garbage time, would go up for one of his patented jump passes and snap his ACL. In this sense, the 2012 playoffs were literally a nightmare. And though the Bulls often warred mightily in 2013, the obstacles were many and mammoth. Rose missed the entire season rehabbing his knee, most of the starters went down for significant stretches of time, and people asked coach Tom Thibodeau about Derrick’s return date more often than whether the ‘h’ in his last name is silent. (For the record, it’s “Thibodeau” like “thimble,” but “Thibs” like “tubs.”)
All of which means you probably haven’t watched much this year, which was for the best when, say, the Bulls lost by 42 to the Kings, who have maybe three NBA players on their roster. But it was also to your detriment, as you also missed Jimmy Butler doing things like this to Chris Bosh:
So here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know heading into Saturday’s first playoff game against the Brooklyn Nets:
1. Derrick Rose is not playing.
No. He just isn’t. There’s just no chance that he might all of a sudden show up in uniform and be ready to ball in Game One, which would be his first game since Game One of last year’s playoffs. There would be a poetry to that idea that we could all get behind, but the end of that poem would probably be more Sylvia Plath than Robert Frost—say nothing of Dylan Thomas, who we’ve been hoping for all year. While Rose is the only player the team would feel comfortable throwing into a playoff game after missing an entire season, the rust is simply going to be nearly impenetrable the first couple games. If he doesn’t lace up for end-of-season games against the paper dolls of the Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards, we shouldn’t expect him to take his first steps in a playoff game.
Should he play? Should he have come back a week ago, a month ago? It’s impossible to say, though you’ll find sportswriters the world over who have had plenty to say about it. Honestly, if the Bulls weren’t so concerned about selling tickets, they would have announced in training camp that Rose wouldn’t play, taking the pressure off their young star (the consensus is that the hold up is mental, not physical). And if he did come back, it would be the kind of heroic return Adidas wants for all of us. Instead we’ve had half a season of conjecture and innuendo, which has done nothing except fill up talk-radio time. Actually, I take that back. One good thing did come of all of this.
2. Noah, Taj, Rip & Kirk are playing hurt.
The Bulls’ intro song this season could’ve been “Everybody Hurts,” which would’ve made for a weird laser show. Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and my beloved Taj Gibson have all missed a third of the season with various injuries. Luol Deng has also had his hip and hammy trouble this year, and Rush Medical is naming a wing after Richard Hamilton. Some of that pain was assuaged by both Joakim and Taj coming back for the last two games of the season, though it’s clear Noah won’t be near 100% in the playoffs. That makes for a tough road ahead for the team, but there’s hope…
3. Nate Robinson will make the playoffs fun.
Say what you want about Nate Robinson—and pretty much anything you’d say would be justified—the little man can step up big in the postseason. In 2010, Doc Rivers predicted that Robinson would win a big game for the Celtics in the playoffs, and he did that, scoring 13 points in eight minutes to put away the Magic in Game Six. Robinson believes he was built for the big stage: The wing flapping, the totally unnecessary highly but entertaining invisible belt beefs with other role players, all of that is a lot more fun when a game actually means something. Robinson is arguably the most annoying player in the NBA, unless he’s on your team, and then he’s only intermittently annoying. But he’s capable of pouring it on, he loves to ham it up for the spotlight, and he drives opponents crazy. Also, he has a pretty awesome shoe collection.
4. Jimmy. Buckets.
Let’s just take a moment or three to appreciate the man. First, stealing Kobe’s move, over Kobe:
Then, inspiring Stacey King’s falsetto:
And finally, Nate and Jimmy together:
5. Enjoy it while lasts (probably until the 2nd round.)
The Bulls were able to pull off the fifth seed in the East, which pits them against the Brooklyn Nets, instead of the Indiana Pacers. For those who love Chicago basketball, this is for the good, as the Pacers are a rising, underrated team, and the Nets’ current roster would have won your fantasy league…in 2009. But Gerald Wallace’s game has crashed and burned, and Brook Lopez—while better this year—never quite realized his potential. Noah, if he has some spring in his step, will destroy him on the boards. The backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson is formidable, but Thibs will have a solid plan in place. And—I honestly can’t believe I’m typing this—Carlos Boozer’s help defense has been greatly improved this year, and no one was ever stung by rotating off of Reggie Evans.
BOTTOM LINE: The season was actually a success.
I know I’m probably alone on this one, but it’s true. In every sport, we’re treated to tales of how teams “gut out” wins, and we lionize the “working man” teams, whether they be Ozzie’s small-ball Sox, or whatever team a Harbaugh has whipped into submission. But in basketball, we prefer our underdogs to be the high-flying Eagles of Florida Gulf Coast. If the Bulls were a football team, overcoming major injuries to four of their best players and still emerging with a fifth seed and a very good shot at the second round of the playoffs, they’d be America’s team.