The Chicago Bulls take their first step in moving on without Derrick Rose, and we'll get a good taste of what the team is made of tonight. Does the team fold under the pressure of knowing Rose is gone for the season or do they rise to the occasion and defeat the 76ers?
Chicago should still be the heavy favorite in round one. They should still have an excellent chance in round two. They should still have a punchers chance in the ECF. As I wrote yesterday, nothing's over yet. Do the players believe? We'll find out tonight.
No more margin for error
Joakim Noah may have said it best. The margin for error for winning is much smaller without Derrick Rose. Absolutely true. That's why this team needs to bring it. They need to bring it for 48 minutes every game. There can be no more lax periods where they can play poor defense for three or four straight possessions and allow big runs. They need to be up in the face of their opponents every second.
Energy level needs to be intense; "watching a video montage of 300, Braveheart, and Gladiator while doing shots of five hour energy chased by Red Bull" intense. They need to put their stamp on this series tonight. They need to send a message to Philly and the rest of the NBA that this team keeps coming at them terminator style and won't be denied.
Big men need to play big
The Bulls dominated the 76ers interior in the first game, and they'll need to do it here on out. While they won't get as many easy offensive rebounds with Rose breaking down the defense to force rotations, they should have plenty of space to work with as Lucas and Watson both shoot the ball better than Rose and can keep players from collapsing in the paint.
Joakim Noah needs to outwork all challengers at the center position and crush the 76ers on the offensive glass while Carlos Boozer will need to create a bit more rather than simply knocking down shots out of the pick and roll. When Taj and Omer come in the game I'm looking for relentless energy on defense and the glass and a few chest pounding, primal scream dunks to set the tone.
The Bulls may no longer be too fast, but they're still too big, too strong, and too good up front.
The extra day off benefits the 76ers
Let's face it, the Bulls aren't going to learn how to play without Derrick Rose any better than they already know how to. They've been battle tested without Rose for 40% of the NBA season, and they've passed the test. They don't have a litany of other injuries which will improve with greater rest either.
The 76ers will benefit from the additional time to breakdown game film of the Bulls minus Rose. In the playoffs, teams get a chance to do heavy film study on their opponents. They get to game plan. They get to find weaknesses. The Bulls were 18-9 without Rose, but they didn't have teams sizing them up looking at how they beat them. They got to take some teams by surprise. They won't take Philly by surprise.
Most affected by the extra film time is likely John Lucas. Teams will realize not to go under screens, not to give him any breathing room on the perimeter. Lucas has a limited ability to do much off the dribble and will likely get crowded far more than in the regular season.
The Bulls will need to find an adjustment of their own in order to beat traps which will inevitably occur on Lucas. They may need try and keep Hamilton in the game with Lucas more as a secondary ball handler and release point or look to get the ball to Noah quickly in the high/mid post.
From wannabe underdogs to true underdogs
True greatness comes from overcoming impossible odds. For doing what no one thought you could do. The Bulls have a chance to seize greatness in these playoffs. They have a chance to show the world what the rest of this team is made of. They're no longer the favorites.
No one believes they can get it done anymore. No one covering the NBA believes this team has a snowball's chance in hell anymore, but as long as the men left in that locker room still believe and as long as the mad genius Tom Thibodeau is calling out plays and defensive rotations, this team has a chance. They have a chance for true greatness. A chance to become perhaps the greatest NBA championship story of all time.
Odds to win it all? 1.7%. But we've beaten those odds before.
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