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2012 NBA Playoff Predictions: Will The King Get A Ring?

Seeing red at the United Center, the home of the Chicago Bulls.

I know it’s unfair to post these picks after six of the eight first round series have already tipped off, but I still wanted to get my prognostications out there. I have the benefit of knowing the awful, depressing, monumental, history-changing news that Derrick Rose will miss the rest of the NBA playoffs with a torn ACL. Pardon me while I cry… Here are my picks:

Eastern Conference

FIRST ROUND

Bulls over 76ers in 6

Heat over Knicks in 4

Pacers over Magic in 6

Celtics over Hawks in 7

SEMIFINALS

Bulls over Celtics in 7

Heat over Pacers in 6

FINALS

Heat over Bulls in 5

Western Conference

FIRST ROUND

Spurs over Jazz in 5

Thunder over Mavericks in 5

Lakers over Nuggets in 5

Grizzlies over Clippers in 7

SEMIFINALS

Spurs over Grizzlies in 7

Thunder over Lakers in 6

FINALS

Thunder over Spurs in 6

NBA FINALS

Heat over Thunder in 6

Finals MVP: LeBron James

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This Date in History : June 12, 1991 – The Bulls Begin Their Run

I’m one day late on this, but anything related to Michael Jordan and the 1990’s Bulls is worth the wait.

20 years ago yesterday, I was about eight weeks from my 2nd birthday and the Chicago Bulls defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1991 Finals for the team’s first NBA title.

Michael Jordan was 27 at the time of his first title. LeBron James, vilified by everybody for still being ringless, is currently 26. Perhaps we’re all being a little too tough on LeBron at the moment. But what the hell, its pretty fun giving shit to someone as naracisstic and self-unaware as LeBron.

Here is the signature play of the 1991 Finals, MJ’s famous switch-hands in mid flight layup from Game 2:

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Game Four Brings More Pain, Bulls Now on The Brink

Photo from Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune

Game 4 took a lot out of me, just likes Games 2 and 3. These games are battles, every possession means so much. It’s going to take awhile to get over this loss, maybe the whole summer if the Bulls can’t pull off an epic comeback.

The Bulls had a golden chance to even up the series with 8 seconds left in regulation, but couldn’t take advantage. It pains me to think back to the joy I had when LeBron James was called for an offensive foul, and the Bulls were given such a monumental opportunity. I love D-Rose, and he’s obviously the Bulls’ best player, but I was disappointed with the play call. LeBron is a freak, he’s 6’8, strong as a bull, and quick as a cat. LBJ on Rose, one-on-one is a total mismatch in the Heat’s favor. An iso for Rose in that situation was destined to fail. And it did as Rose threw up an air-ball as time expired. I would have liked to have seen the ball go to Luol Deng, who was guarded by the shorter Dwyane Wade. Luol would have driven to the paint and gotten a better shot opportunity than Rose got with LBJ in his face.

Sports can be so cruel. These last three games have been griding, and in the end, painful. The Bulls could have won all three, but instead they face a 3-1 hole. Thanks to the recent rebirths of roleplayers Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller (he was a +36 tonight!), the Heatles suddenly look like the juggarnaut many thought they would eventually become. The Bulls need to win three in a row now if they want to advance to the team’s first NBA Finals since 1998. Can it happen? Sure. It is likely? Hell no. But it’s not over yet, we can still believe.

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It’s now or never for Bulls in Game 4

It’s simple, Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals is the biggest game of the 2011 Bulls season. A win, and the series becomes a three game series with the Bulls holding home-court advantage. A loss, and the Bulls are forced to win three straight games, an unlikely feat against the mighty Miami triumvirate. With the Heat winning the last two games, many have started to pematurely write off the Bulls. It’s easy to forget the Bulls’ dominate Game 1 victory, or the fact that the Bulls were very much in Games 2 and 3 before the Heat made 4th quarter runs to pull away.

As it has been all season for the Bulls, their fate will be determined by the production of Derrick Rose. In the 4th quarters of Games 2 and 3, Rose’s play was far from MVP-like. Over the last two fourth quarters, Rose had four points on just six shots. Rose needs to be more aggressive in the fourth quarter, driving to the hoop for layups and drawing fouls. The Bulls just simply will not win if Rose continues to be passive in the fourth.

The Bulls could also use some offensive help from their 2-guards. Against the Pacers and Hawks, and in game 1 against the Heat, the Bulls were getting solid 3-point production from Keith Bogans and/or Kyle Korver. Bogans and Korver have combined for just four made 3-pointers the last two games. The Bulls need one of them to get hot from beyond the arc tonight to keep pace with the Heat offense.

One more thing, I really don’t like hearing people say that the Bulls are just too young, and that they’re a year away from truly being a title contender. It’s bullshit. The Bulls can win now, and most likely, they are in better shape to win this year than they will be next year or the year after. Yes, the Bulls need to add a scoring 2-guard. I hope it happens, they will be a better and more complete team if they do. And I’m sure Foreman/Paxson will be trying their hardest to make it happen, but it won’t be easy since they don’t have much extra cash to spend this offseason. My main point is that the Heat will only get better in the years to come. Wade/James/Bosh will get better as a threesome as they play more games together, and their supporting cast can only get better. For the majority of the season, the Big 3 was surrounded by corpses in basketball jerseys. Just getting a healthy Udonis Haslem back in Game 2 improved the Heat’s play drastically. The Heat are at their most vulnerable this season and the Bulls have to take advtange. It all starts with a victory tonight in Game 4.


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Rose, Bulls Blooming Into Title Contenders

With four victories in their recent five-game road trip, the Chicago Bulls made a statement loud enough for everybody in the NBA to hear. For the first time since Michael, Scottie and Phil left town in 1998, the Bulls are legitimate championship contenders.

The Bulls showed their mental toughness and resiliency in bouncing back from their 83-80 loss in Atlanta Wednesday night. The Bulls blew a 17-point halftime lead against the Hawks and scored only 30 total points in the second half, and point guard and MVP candidate Derrick Rose took the blame for his team’s collapse.

“The game was definitely on me,” said Rose. “But I guarantee it won’t happen again.”  It didn’t. The Bulls finished off their five-game road trip through the Southeast by defeating the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat.

The Bulls’ 87-86 victory over the Heat on Sunday completed a season sweep of the squad former Knicks and Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy thought would challenge the 1995-1996 Bulls’ NBA-record 72 wins.

The Bulls’ win literally left the Heat in tears.

“This is painful for every single one of us to go through this, there are couple of guys crying in the locker room right now,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game.

While the Heat, losers of four straight, hardly look like the NBA’s best team, the Bulls keep impressing.

The Bulls have moved ahead of the Heat into second place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 43-18. They have proven themselves against the the NBA’s best, holding an 11-6 record against the league’s top teams.

For the Bulls, it all starts with Rose. The Chicago native and Eastern Conference All-Star starter leaves fans and opposing players breathless with his electrifying moves. In a league where a superstar is needed to win championships, the Bulls definitely have one.

Rose leads the team with 24 points and 8 assists per game, and has emerged as a favorite to take home this season’s MVP award. Even teammates of LeBron James, the player considered Rose’s main competition for the award, believe Rose is the NBA’s MVP.

“I think I would give it to Derrick if I were a voter. He’s playing well,” said Heat forward Chris Bosh. “He’s playing like the best point guard in the league and the best player in the league. He’s the most valuable player if you really think about it. You take him out of the lineup there’s no telling what you get.”

While Bosh’s last statement may be true, the Bulls are more than just Rose.

Forward Luol Deng has emerged as an all-around star on his own. Deng is averaging 17 points and 6 rebounds per game, and has become the Bulls’ go-to-player in the clutch. On Sunday, Deng hit three free throws in the game’s final seconds to give the Bulls the lead.

It’s obvious from coach Tom Thibodeau’s praise that Deng’s improved play has been essential to the Bulls’ success.

“When you’re around him every day and you see his leadership and the way he works, you can’t say enough about him,” said Thibodeau. “He’s our glue. He keeps us together. When things are tough, he’s the same. He doesn’t get rattled.”

One of the reasons the Bulls will be a tough team to play in the postseason is the depth of their front court. Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik and Kurt Thomas all receive regular time in Thibodeau’s rotation.

Because Boozer missed the season’s first 18 games with a broken hand and Noah recently missed 30 games with a broken wrist, the other three big men all received more playing time than they would have normally. This gave the backups a chance to gain experience playing with the starters, and gave youngsters Gibson and Asik a chance to develop their skills.

Asik, a seven-foot-tall rookie from Turkey, improved drastically while filling in for the injured Noah.  Asik had a career-high 13 rebounds against Dwight Howard and the Magic on Friday night.

Having not played a full 82 games, Noah and Boozer should be fresher than their opponents entering the playoffs. As well, now that both are back, Thibodeau can rest the 38-year-old Thomas so he’s ready and able to be a defensive enforcer in the playoffs.

The Bulls still need to improve if they are going to win a championship this season, and the players realize it.

“We’re just trying to play the best we can,” Noah said. “I think we still have a long way to go and we can get a lot better. That’s what is so exciting about this team. Our defense is really improving. We can still improve offensively as well. We can take this pretty far.”

I wrote this story in March 2011 for my Sports Journalism class with Len Shapiro.

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