I'm debating about whether I should simply never predict a loss for my personal credibility or always predict a loss in order to assure a Chicago victory. The Bulls calmed my anxiety by playing the same stifling defense used to crush Orlando.
Making a statement
How well are the Bulls playing without Rose? 13-5 (59 win pace) with wins against five of the seven other playoff teams in the East without Derrick Rose including the top four seeds outside of themselves. The only exceptions are Indiana (6) and New York (8) whom they haven't played while Rose has been out.
This is what the Bulls big men need to do to Miami
With Al Horford out, Atlanta lacks much of a front court, and the Bulls big men dominated the game. They choked off the Atlanta offense and scored at will when Chicago had the ball. Led by Boozer and Gibson, the Bulls big men combined four 23/39 from the field for 56 points.
This is the production Chicago didn't get from the front court last year in the playoffs, and it's the production they need to change from ECF loser to NBA finals champion. It likely won't be this good every night, but if Chicago can get 50% shooting combined from their four front court players while taking 30+ shots a game, then they'll have done their job.
On defense, the Bulls big men shut down the lane completely stopping any Hawk who had the audacity to try and take a shot within five feet of the rim. They forced the Hawks into toughttp://www.chicagonow.com/chicago-bulls-confidential/wp-admin/post-new.php#articleh shots all night long and did so without committing fouls and sending Atlanta to the charity stripe.
The Hawks largely settled for jumpers, but struggled to knock them down even when given fairly good looks.
After a rough patch, the Iron Asik is back
The last few games, Omer has ratcheted up the defense to GTFO levels. He's rotating well and simply humiliating opposing guards who attempt to throw up a layup while he's in the paint.
I don't want to overstate his offensive impact over the past few games because the numbers don't seem that different, so maybe it's in my head, but he feels a bit more steady and decisive on the offensive end of the court as well. It's gone from "OH GOD WHY DID YOU THROW HIM THE BALL, THERE'S A DEFENDER WITHIN 5 FEET" to "I feel a bit queasy about this" when Omer gets the ball.
Either way, Omer makes his money on the defensive end, and his defense has been unbelievable recently. If can continue into becoming simply capable on offense, he's going to have a long profitable career. Hell, let's be honest, even if he can't become more capable on offense our boy's getting paid next year.
They're saying Booz not Boo
Though he's taken on the role of team skapegoat, Carlos Boozer has managed to find a groove. I think his interior defense and effort have been improved recently [yes, he still has his lapses] and his offense has seemed to come around a bit more. He's been somewhat of the anti-Deng shooting over 50% from the field in 7 of his past 11 games.
That doesn't necessarily sound incredible for a big man, but Boozer does it largely by shooting mid range jumpers and not by taking gimmie shots around the basket [though he did a great job being opportunistic on the offensive glass to help lead Chicago back against Toronto a game ago].
While sometimes mentally cast away by Bulls fans due to the last of performance in the playoffs last year, Carlos will be a big determinant of just how far they can go this year. Hopefully he can keep the momentum going this time around.
A rare strong game by Luol Dengerous
The good news is that Deng had a great game. He knocked down his open shots, particularly from the three point line. The bad news is that he's still obviously not creating a whole lot of pressure on the opposing defense when five of his eight makes were open catch and shoot looks from the perimeter that could have been prevented with better defense.
Since returning from injury Luol Deng has played 24 games. In those 24 games, he's taken 10 shots and shot more than 40% from the field a mere eight times with the most recent being last night. Prior to last night's game and a 41.7% for 24 points against Toronto two games ago, he's been completely abysmal on offense.
I don't blame Deng. He's basically playing with one hand on offense, and teams have adjusted to the fact that he's not going to make many dribble moves knowing that he can only go hard with his right hand. His limitations have put him in a SF Raja Bell like role of just shooting open jumpers and defending hard every night.
Thank you for gutting it out Luol, the offense hasn't always been pretty, but we appreciate the pain you go through every night to keep contributing to wins.
Am I way too cynical here?
There's a part of me that feels the Hamilton potentially playing in this game story was floated merely so that when he returns against Detroit people don't make a big issue of him coming back against Detroit. "Well he almost played in the Atlanta game..."
Now Rip's obviously close, because he's been practicing, and we've seen some footage of him shooting some mid range Js and taken careful note of his arm is not in a sling, cast, or hanging like it went numb after sleeping on it all funny. So of course it makes sense that he's probably right on the verge of coming back.
It just seems a little peculiar that the game he now seems destined to come back in is the one against his former teammates. Perhaps I'm just still a wee bit annoyed about the last time he came back against them which was clearly too early and caused him to reaggravate his injury.
Big win for Chicago
The Bulls still have a decent lead on the #1 seed in the playoffs. They don't necessarily need it to win the whole thing, but we all want every advantage possible against the Heat [and hopefully whomever comes out of the West]. With just 15 games left, the Bulls defeated one of their tougher opponents without Rose and came one step closer to grabbing that #1 seed.