Chicago came into the season with aspirations of overtaking both Miami and Indiana and being the top seed in the Eastern Conference. After all, superstar point guard Derrick Rose as back after sitting out a whole year (and he supposedly improved his jump shot tremendously), so it seemed pretty logical.
Then Rose got hurt again just 10 games into the year, putting him out for yet another season. Many people wrote the Bulls off, but Chicago has persevered and are challenging to be the third seed in the East thanks to the play of All-Star center Joakim Noah and coach Tom Thibodeau.
The blueprint has remained the same in the United Center: play great defense and share the ball on offense, and you'll have a chance to win most games. The Bulls have done that, sporting the leagues top defense again and ranking among the NBA's best in assists per game.
But this season seems to be following the same script as last year, where a Rose-less Bulls squad earned the fifth spot in the West and scrapped to a surprising first-round victory over the Brooklyn Nets but got walloped by the Heat in the second round.
So, the question remains: Do the Bulls have enough without Derrick Rose to be a serious playoff threat?
The Bulls brought Augustin in to be their backup point guard to Derrick Rose, but as fate would have it, he's been Chicago's leading scorer this season. Now, the Bulls do have an extremely balanced attack - six players average double figure points - but Augustin has to be the catalyst that makes this team go.
Last season, he was the backup in Indiana, and let's just be nice and say that he didn't perform well. His resurrection in Chicago has been a surprise to many around the league, and he needs to keep progressing in the postseason.
Over the course of league history, most close playoff series' have been decided by each teams top player or scorer - this current Bulls team doesn't have a guy that can consistently get his own shot. However, Augustin is coach Thibodeau's best bet, and he's going to have to make plays late in games if the Bulls want to have playoff success.
Chicago has always played well against Miami in the regular season, but they've yet to win a playoff series against the Heat since the Big 3 era began. The Bulls essentially have the same team as the one that lost to Miami in five games last year, but Noah is playing the best ball of his career and Chicago is better quipped for playing without Derrick Rose.
The Bulls also hold the season advantage over Brooklyn, who pulled some sort of Wizardry and avoided Chicago in the first round. The Nets also play a slower, more methodical brand of basketball, which works into Chicago's favor. They play the leagues best defense and can really limit teams on that end of the floor, especially when they have time to set up, which slower-paced teams give them.
The Wizards grabbed the five-seed largely due to a two-game tanking effort from Brooklyn, and are the only Eastern Conference playoff team that had a winning record in the regular season against Chicago. Washington's explosive backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal give Chicago's weak backcourt major problems and could pull off the upset.
Chicago's defense and experience is too much for Washington, and then get the Heat in the second round. Dwyane Wade can't play in the series because of his nagging knee injuries and Noah wills the Bulls to an improbable seven-game upset, but they lose to the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
John Wall exploits Chicago's lack of athleticism in transition all series and the Wizards win the series in six games.
Chicago got really unlucky with the way the end of the season played out. Washington really wanted to get the five-seed and face the Bulls because of the matchup, while the Nets really wanted to avoid them for the same reason.
So here come the Wizards that are everything the Bulls aren't, and I think Wall will just give the Bulls fits as he leads his team to a six-game series victory.
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