You know, Dave Cirilli and Bill Simmons’ theory that says a team occasionally comes together in the absence of its star and actually plays better than before? Is there any chance the Bulls can make a Ewing Theory-like run to an NBA championship?
As you might have heard, Chicago did win 18 of 27 games without the 2010-2011 MVP in the lineup this season, compared to 32 of 39 games with Rose. With excellent team defense and a balanced scoring attack, the Bulls clearly didn’t slip too far. But how did they fare against potential playoff opponents without their star on the floor?
Pretty well actually. Absent Rose, Chicago won at home in its only game against Philadelphia, took two of three from Boston (all games won by the home team), dominated on the road in its only clash with Atlanta, and split two games with Miami (both games won by the home team). The Bulls also outlasted the Heat in an overtime game in Chicago with Rose on the bench after a horrendously rusty return—a career-low 2 points on 1-13 shooting. Counting the last result, that makes for a 6-2 record, including a 5-0 mark in the United Center, for the Rose-less Bulls against likely Eastern Conference foes.
So why panic? Every series will start in Chicago, where the Bulls haven’t lost to any of these teams minus Rose. With a 1-0 series lead already, Chicago can, at the very least, eke out three more victories against Philadelphia. Likewise, they should be able to hold serve at home against either Boston or Atlanta in round two, and maybe steal a game on the road to shorten the series. Next, in all likelihood, would be Miami, who the Bulls have again proven they can handle at home sans-Rose. Right?
Unfortunately for Chicago, playoff basketball is rarely that simple. Sure, they should still send the Sixers packing, and with Tom Thibodeau’s suffocating defensive scheme, they could certainly take down Atlanta or Boston in round two. But playing Miami will present a different challenge, one that not even the MVP-led Bulls could overcome last season.
Where will the crunch-time scoring come from? Despite home-court advantage, Chicago lost to Miami last season because LeBron James made Rose (THE LEAGUE MVP!!!) nearly irrelevant as a scorer in the final minutes of games. No matter how much he may shrink from the moment offensively, LeBron proved he can take away one of the league’s best scorers when everything depends on it. Can Luol Deng, Rip Hamilton or John Lucas III even hope to match Rose’s performance last year? Not a chance.
So while stellar defense and well-timed scoring could help Chicago slip into the third round, it would take a tremendous collective surge to make, let alone win, the NBA Finals. Sure, it’s possible the Ewing Theory kicks in and the Bulls start ripping through opponents with Deng and Hamilton scoring like Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston.
But not likely.