There are numerous reasons as to why the Bulls will find themselves in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
1. Derrick Rose
This is clearly the most obvious advantage Chicago has over not only the Pacers, but the entire field of playoff teams. Rose was on fire in the regular season exploding his numbers from last year to unimaginable amounts. He is the clear cut MVP choice simply because just by being on the court he makes the Bulls that much better.
Rose’s greatest skill is not his play as an individual but rather his ability to be a team player. When the game is on the line, Rose will take the shot, but only if he is the best available option. If he sees Luol Deng or Carlos Boozer open with a better shot, there won’t be a moment of hesitation on Rose’s part to sling them the ball.
2. The Chicago Chokehold
This is the term I coined that sums up the way the Bulls have played basketball all year long. They play for the lead and once they get it, they don’t look back. Once you’re in the Chicago Chokehold, it’s too late for you; the death grip is too strong.
This all comes down to how well the Bulls have become at closing out games. Once the fourth quarter starts, if the Bulls are ahead, chances are you can rest easy. If they’re trailing, then stay glued to your seat because the Bulls will scratch, claw, bite and force their way to a tie and then to the lead.
Once that happens, the Chokehold is on.
There have been rare occasions where teams have slipped out of the Bulls grip, but these are few and far between. If it happens in the playoffs, expect it to happen against a second half team and not the Pacers
3. Tom Thibodeau and the Defense
No it’s not an 80′s band, it’s the reason the Chicago Chokehold works.
Derrick Rose may be the MVP favorite for what he can do to better the Bulls offensively, but he’s not good enough yet go carry the team all on his own.
Enter Tom Thibodeau and his defensive schemes. The brain child of the Bulls defensive success, Thibodeau is in his first year as an NBA head coach after years of an assistant in Boston under Doc Rivers. Thibodeau was an interesting choice when the Bulls hired him this offseason but no one knew what was in store or just how good his schemes would transfer from Boston to Chicago.
Like Rose, Thibodeau makes the Bulls better simply by yelling things.
The prime example of his mastermind ability to coach and utilize the defense properly can be seen in the growth of Joakim Noah. Under the previous Vinny Del Negro led regime, Noah was under-used and frustrated. This led to disconnect and behind the scenes drama which was extremely unhealthy for this young squad.
After just one year with Thibodeau, Noah’s numbers are up and his productivity has given the Bulls a swagger that is unmatched. The swagger comes from a confidence in Noah to rebound the ball after a shot. Rose, Deng and the Bulls shooters can shoot knowing Noah will be under the hoop to either slam in the put-back or sling the back out to a shooter for a second chance at the bucket.
This skill is extremely valuable in the postseason.
4. The Madhouse
It’s the sixth man on the court.
It’s the unwavering variable that propels the Bulls above all others in the playoffs and is an unwritten warning to all who enter; if you’re going to play inside the United Center, you better be wearing a Bulls uniform.
The Bulls lost just five times at home which will be a stat highlighted ad nauseam in all coverage leading up to a Bulls playoff game. Once inside the United Center, the atmosphere is so infectious and so overpowering that only a handful of teams have won there.
Granted they were subpar teams with the notable exception of the Magic, whenever the Bulls played a team that was a championship contender, they didn’t lose.
Boston. Miami. Los Angeles.
All victims of what edge the United Center gives this already razor sharp Bulls squad. The Pacers will not stand a fighting chance against the deafening noise of the Bulls faithful.
Plus to make matters worse, the Bulls fans should be nicknamed AAA because they travel with the team and they’re everywhere. Scores of Bulls fans both from Chicago and the surrounding Illinois/Indiana area have their Bulls tickets already purchased for when their favorite squad suits it up on the road in Indiana.
Don’t expect that to change in later rounds, because with Bulls faithful, distance is not an issue.
5. The Bench Mob
They’re the shadow kings of Chicago.
If the starting five is Aliens, the Bench Mob is Aliens 3; overlooked, but loved by those who recognize what genius it actually is. They’re the cult favorite in Chicago.
Heck, they are so popular they even have a nickname, The Bench Mob, which you can buy on a T-Shirt from the players on the bench and benefit C.J Watson’s Quiet Storm foundation.
But they aren’t popular for no reason. The Bullls own what is perhaps the best bench in the NBA. When you have guys like Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik, Taj Gibson among others that you can sub in you have something special.
This bench consistently outscores the opponents bench by large margins and occasionally rivals the stats of the oppenets starting unit.
The rest of the league recognizes this talent as they were hot after the two big men in the Mob, Omer Asik and Taj Gibson. The reason the Bulls didn’t pull the trigger on a trade prior to the deadline is because every proposal included either Asik, Gibson or both. GM Gar Forman was vehement in his stance that the Bulls by no means would trade these guys no matter what the deal was.
Good thing he didn’t. With a rotation of Noah, Asik and Gibson, the Bulls three headed big man monster is a force to be reckoned with. Come the postseason, the depth the Bulls have on the roster will prove to be too much for anyone to handle.
If you need proof, just look at what they did during the regular season.