After last season’s transformation under then-rookie head coach Tom Thibodeau, 2011-2012 was supposed to be “the” season in which Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls would fully bloom into a team that could legitimately challenge the Heat for a spot in the NBA Finals.
But something was wrong from the start.
First and foremost was the NBA lockout which kept many players away from their typical off-season workout and conditioning programs in efforts to adjust to an unknown timetable of when the season might start up again. This affected every player.
Then, Rose was the passenger in a car when his buddy, the driver, was pulled over and arrested for DUI. While Rose wasn’t in any trouble personally, surely the incident shook the quiet 23-year-old who goes out of his way to keep his personal life private.
But things seemed to turn around in late December as Rose agreed to a five-year contract extension worth a whopping $94.8 million just days before the start of a shortened NBA season.
The much-deserved reward from his Chicago bosses would prove be the high point of Rose’s season which turned ugly quite quickly as the All-Star guard suffered a myriad of injuries.
Toe, back, groin foot and ankle injuries forced Rose to miss 27 of the Bulls’ 66 regular season games. Rose had only missed six games in his first three NBA seasons combined.
The Bulls logged a respectable 18-9 record without Rose and held on for the No. 1 seed in the East, despite the frequent absence of their superstar.
It was only fitting, in sports’ version of a cruel shakespearean tragedy, that Rose would wilt for good late in his team’s first playoff game against the Philadelphia 76ers, sidelined for up to eight months with a torn ACL in his left knee.
Kyle Korver said after the game, “It’s the saddest win,” as Rose’s teammates were clearly shell-shocked by the severity of his injury and the impact it would have on what was, just minutes earlier, a postseason full of promise and potential.
Leading the series against the 76ers 1-0, the Bulls have enough talent to dispose of Philadelphia, even without Rose. As fate would have it, Rose’s teammates are fairly used to playing without him, having figured out a system that worked well enough in the regular season. Chicago’s stellar defense, combined with adrenaline and the competitive spirit will propel the Bulls for the rest of this series against an inconsistent 76ers team.
It’s the long-term prognosis that is worrisome for the Rose-less Bulls.
While the Bulls beat Miami once and Boston twice without Rose during the regular season, a seven-game playoff series is a completely different animal.
Rose is so important to the Bulls not just because of the points he puts up, but because of the opponent’s perception of him as a scoring threat, forcing double teams which allows open looks for his Bulls teammates.
Who will opponents double team now? It won’t be Carlos Boozer or Joakim Noah. They SHOULD be the guys drawing a double team but they won’t be because neither is consistent offensively warranting the additional attention. Rip Hamilton and Kyle Korver certainly won’t draw the double team, thus the big guys shouldn’t get many easy scoring opportunities down low.
Ideally, opponents tried to force Rose to shoot outside instead of driving the lane, the place where he often put on a spectacular show while having his way with the defense. With veteran guard C.J. Watson set to start in Rose’s place, the defense will strive for the opposite in forcing Watson closer to the rim rather than allowing him to shoot from his comfort zone outside of the key.
This will be Luol Deng’s time to shine, even brighter than he has already this season. He has to make good choices and consistently execute offensively. Boozer, whose biggest knock as a pro has been that he doesn’t play up to his potential, finally has the chance to prove the haters wrong by stepping up and leading my example.
The biggest challenge for Chicago, in this series at least, will likely be mental, not physical. Losing your MVP can shatter one’s psyche. The Bulls have to find a way to quickly shake off the stench of losing Rose and focus on the immediate task, which is the 76ers.
A lot of people “don’t like” hockey. Most of said people have never watched a game or a playoff series and likely have little-to-no understanding of the game they choose to blindly bash, otherwise, they would certainly sing a different tune.
Only a few games into the postseason this year and we’re already witnessing upsets-galore as the NHL is taking us on one heck of a wild ride that nobody wants to get off of just yet.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs is perhaps the most exciting postseason in all of North American professional team sports not only because of the increased intensity of an already fast and furious game, but also because of the predictably unpredictable results.
Unlike football, baseball or basketball, the “underdogs” frequently get the best of the favorites when Lord Stanley is involved as the NHL playoffs provide all kinds of crazy drama in “truth is stranger than fiction” fashion. Just like in the early rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament, it’s easy to gravitate to teams with players you’ve never heard of solely because they have the potential to be that Cinderella story. The NHL playoffs give us a solid underdog storyline or two nearly every year as lower seeds routinely give higher seeds a run for their money.
In the Western Conference, the 8-seed Los Angeles Kings lead the 1-seed Vancouver Canucks (last year’s Cup runner up) two games to none in the first round as L.A. stole back-to-back road games in British Columbia. Meanwhile the 8-seed Washington Capitals logged a double-overtime win over the top dog Bruins in Boston to tie the first-round series 1-1.
What are the chances that either of these 8-seeds actually pull off the upset and beat the 1-seed in the series? Believe it or not, that feat has been accomplished nine times in 34 tries since the NHL adopted its current playoff format 17 years ago. When you crunch those numbers, the 8-seed beats the 1-seed in the conference quarterfinals 28.1 percent of the time. That might not seem like a lot, but in comparison to the NBA where we’ve only seen the 8-seed down the 1-seed four times, EVER, the odds aren’t terrible for the little guys!
Recent history is even more favorable to hockey’s lower seeds. According to Grantland, the higher-seeded team has won 62.5 percent of first-round matchups since NHL play resumed in 2005 after the season-long lockout. 62.5 percent is not an impressive figure if you are the higher-seeded team. Plus, that number gives the underdog a lot of confidence heading into the playoffs. In that same time frame, the higher seed in the NBA has won 79.2 percent of first-round series.
Once the postseason starts, anything is possible in the NHL where parody finds its way into the field of 16. But the 8-seed isn’t the only playoff cellar-dweller having success this year as the 4-seed Pittsburgh Penguins are in a predicament, down 2-0 to the 5-seed Philadelphia Flyers. The Penguins placement in the fourth slot is misleading as Pittsburgh had the second-best point total out East but was relegated to the 4-seed because they finished a point behind the New York Rangers who won their division.
The Pens are extremely talented especially now that Sidney Crosby is back on the ice, but the Flyers are tough as nails and extra motivated after being swept by the Bruins in the second round last season. I suppose it’s all cyclical as the Bruins sweep of the Flyers in 2011 was retribution for the Philly’s historic comeback from a 3-0 series deficit to beat the Bruins in Boston in 7 games back in 2010. Despite the roster differences, the Flyers are rough and confident, much like they were in 2010 and will take no pity on Crosby or any of his teammates. Then again, it wouldn’t shock me if the Pens came back from this 2-0 deficit to win the series, despite the odds now in the Flyers favor. According to NHL.com, teams trailing 2-0 in a best-of-seven series have come back to win the series only 12.7 percent of the time (37-291).
That leads us to the Kings and Canucks. A series victory looks promising for the Kings who are not only bringing a 2-0 series lead back home to L.A., but the Canucks will play a near must-win Game Three without star left winger Daniel Sedin who has been sidelined with a concussion since late March and did not make the trip to Southern California.
Then again, this marks just the third time in team history the Kings have held a 2-0 series lead (first time on the road) and the franchise has NEVER won a Stanley Cup. Despite the Kings’ historical lack of success, at least the roster has some experienced players who will do their best to shake off the stink of the record books and instead, smell the sweetness of victory as L.A. looks to turn the page.
Another team who struggled, fired its head coach and managed to salvage the season to the point of making the playoffs is Washington. Sure, the Caps have Alex Ovechkin and a hot young goalie in Braden Holtby but I can’t see Washington getting past the defending Cup champion Bruins. As superb as Holtby has been, Saturday’s game was his second career playoff game and only his 21st career NHL game, period! Tim Thomas eats those numbers for lunch.
Then again, the NHL Playoffs is the perfect place to expect the unexpected. I’m sayin’ there’s a chance…