Remember back around the All Star break, when Bulls were an unmitigated disaster? Rose looked like a rookie — a promising rookie, but one who turned the ball over and was still learning to play in the clutch. The team gave away fourth quarter leads like Jim Cramer gives away bad stock advice — every night. Vinny Del Negro looked like an unprepared rookie coach and John Paxson was being nailed to the sports talk radio wall for brining in the bloated contract of Brad Miller and the ball-hogging John Salmons.
Well look at the Bulls now. Rose matured, Del Negro has grown, the trade provided needed pieces and the Bulls are a team to avoid.
They have won 8 of 10 and that includes going into Detroit on Monday night and knocking off the Pistons behind brilliant play from Derrick Rose and a game-winning shot from Ben Gordon. That win secures at least seventh place in the East, meaning the Bulls win the avoid-the-Cavaliers-in-the-first-round game that everyone has been playing.
Chicago’s win is bad news for Orlando, the likely first round opponent for the Bulls. (All the Bulls have to do is beat Toronto at home in the final game of the season to secure that seeding.)
The Bulls are getting fantastic point guard play out of soon-to-be rookie of the year Rose, who is no longer playing like a rookie. He took over the end of the game against Detroit on the road, getting his own shots, setting up Tyrus Thomas, setting up Miller for the three, getting layups on consecutive possessions. He also had a key late game blocked shot on Rodney Stuckey. Rose finished with 24 points and 8 assists against Detroit, a game where he created the shots but didn’t take them all. Gordon has learned to play along with him, and scored 19, including going 3 of 5 from beyond the arc.
Orlando would counter Rose with Rafer Alston, a solid veteran but not someone with the skill level of Rose. But that is true all over the court — Orlando has good players but no athletes like Thomas, nobody who can stay in front of Rose or Gordon on the wings consistently.
Of course, the Magic have Dwight Howard in the paint to erase problems like that. But the Bulls now have a counter — somebody has to cover Brad Miller 18-feet and out from the basket. Howard is not big on pressing his man that far out from the basket. If he doesn’t against Chicago, Miller will light it up as he can still drain that shot with the best of the bigs. The Magic are not a great one-on-one defensive team without Howard there to erase their mistakes.
The Bulls are playing as a team, while Orlando is not. Granted, we can’t take much from the Magic’s loss to the Bucks Monday night when Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis all took the night off on coach’s orders. In fact, the only thing we can take away is that Orlando is a banged-up team that needs the rest if they are going to win in the playoffs.
Even when everyone healthy has been in the lineup lately, the Magic offense has looked stagnant. Orlando has become a team that relies too much on Howard and lacks creativity in the half court (what they really miss without Jameer Nelson).
In a Chicago/Orlando series, the Magic would still be a heavy favorite, and the young Bulls could well cramp up the first time in the bright lights. But Orlando is no invincible force, and the Bulls could make the first round out East a lot more interesting than people think.
They are primed for the upset.
Kurt Helin's crossover dribble was good enough to land him a desk job, where hs started the Lakers/NBA blog Forum Blue & Gold.