Their struggles are primarily due to having several key players injured. The Bulls have had three different starting lineups in 10 games.
Postseason play in any sport is the ultimate reward for teams that have had a good year. Each team qualifying for the playoffs has a chance at a championship.
While the hopes are high in 15 NBA cities, in Chicago, fans are on the edge.
After playing the entire season without Derrick Rose, their best player, no one knows what to expect from the Bulls. It is still uncertain if Rose, out after tearing his ACL, will get past the multitude of hurdles in order to play. The dynamic of the team changes depending on whether or not Rose plays.
Bulls’ fans have their fingers crossed.
Many of them believe that the Bulls can be the dark horse in the Eastern Conference.
Ask any of the Chicago faithful, and as a consensus, you will hear these words: “if only they were healthy.”
There are a few critical keys that must work in the Bulls’ favor in order for them to advance to the next round. Health is just one of them.
The Bulls Must Get Healthy
Being 100 percent healthy is impossible at this stage of the year. The only player on the Bulls who can claim to be healthy is, ironically, Rose. The rest of the team is a walking mash unit.
Among the walking wounded are Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis, cortisone shot) and Taj Gibson (MCL sprain).
They represent the only portion of the Bulls’ frontcourt that is capable of blocking shots.
Although Chicago is 15th in blocked shots with 5.1 per contest, Noah swats 2.2 BPG, and Gibson rejects 1.38 a game.
Their importance to the team is unspeakable. Slashers are discouraged to enter the paint while Noah and Gibson are patrolling it.
Injuries are part of the game, and the Bulls have had plenty of them.
Here is where the last few games come in handy. You have a couple of players who need the playing time under their belts, i.e. Noah and Gibson. Somehow they must be implemented into the rotation during the postseason and without either of them playing a lot of minutes.
This can be accomplished if Bulls’ head coach Tom Thibodeau utilizes a strategy he has seldom taken advantage of; he must use the television timeouts to rest his tired players.
Generally a television timeout will last anywhere between two to three minutes. There is no reason why Thibodeau cannot not take advantage of this. Giving extra rest to the frontcourt players will keep them fresh.
One of the biggest positives working in the Bulls’ favor is their frontcourt. If they can remain healthy and play to their capabilities, the Bulls can defeat their first-round opponent—regardless of which team they face.
The Rise of Jimmy Butler
The other key to the playoffs will be the play of Jimmy Butler.
Butler is the Bulls’ X-factor because he adds so much to the team, yet he rarely gets the recognition. From defense to offense, he has become a godsend for a club that needed some positivity after the season they have suffered.
Is it too soon for Butler to be regarded as one of the premier defenders, one worthy of an NBA All-Defensive selection?
Halting an offense is a team effort, yet Butler stands out as a great individual defender who works seamlessly in the Bulls’ team concept.
When he was drafted, many considered him to be a hustle player. He was one who would limit the mistakes and do the dirty work, such as diving for loose balls, setting screens and boxing out a player while rebounding.
Butler does not disappoint. He is quickly becoming one of those rare players who can do a little bit of everything.
When the Bulls need a key stop, Butler’s name gets called. He goes out there, regardless of who he is assigned to guard.
As a wing player, his rebounding is awesome, snagging 6.4 RPG over the last 10 games and averaging 4.0 RPG the entire season.
His scoring and shooting has improved tremendously now that he is a starter. Scoring 10.8 PPG after the All-Star break is a far cry from the 7.3 PPG prior to it.
If Butler continues the steady climb, he will add an element to the Bulls on offense that opposing teams have not prepared themselves for. He is an athletic, versatile player with the potential to make a turn toward becoming a star in the playoffs.
If the Bulls can avoid injuries, they will be fine once the postseason tips off. They can match size with size playing against any team, plus healthy bodies improve their chances to advance.
The other key is Butler and how he matures.
The first playoff game will mark the first time he gets any meaningful minutes in postseason play. When he attempts a shot, makes a shot, grabs a rebound and scores a point, it will be his first time doing so on the big stage in his career.
The spotlight has not been too big for him thus far, but if the Bulls make it to the next round, it will be greatly attributed to his contributions.