You’ll recall that the Chicago Bulls have been through quite a bit since April of 2012. The team, working with the league’s best record and top seed in the Eastern Conference, lost Derrick Rose to an ACL tear that month. A few days into their first round series, they should have lost Joakim Noah to a badly sprained ankle, but he and the team’s training staff decided that it was just fine for Noah to play through it – even if the sprain would eventually knock Noah out of an Olympic tournament that wouldn’t start for another three months.
The team lost Rose for all of 2012-13, it lost Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich in the playoffs last year, and it lost Rose again this season before trading Deng for no on-court compensation. Throughout the entire run, the team has mostly kept winning. Most importantly, they just play on. Next man up. Pretty remarkable stuff.
So with less than two weeks left in the season, and with the team possibly staring down a playoff schedule that would pitch the squad against a Washington Wizards team that has already beaten the Bulls twice this year, would Chicago attempt to lose games on purpose in order to beat a Brooklyn Nets franchise that they downed in the playoffs last year – without Rose, Deng, and Hinrich?
"We're just trying to play good basketball," Noah said. "There's no way in hell we're going to try and lose games to match up against anybody. I think whatever happens, happens, so we're just going to keep playing our game, keep winning as much as we can, and then (we) can't wait for the playoffs."
"I think losing games to try to play somebody, I think that's soft," Noah said. "That's soft. We're not soft."
With the Miami Heat taking over the top spot in the East, at least in terms of winning percentage, Chicago would potentially face the defending champions in the second round, should they even get past a formidable Wizards team that matches up well with Chicago in spite of its inconsistent pangs. Other teams have finagled their way to preferred seedings in the final weeks of a season in the past, so this sort of move wouldn’t be unprecedented.
To call losing an anathema to the Chicago Bulls, though, would be to utilize an understatement. We run the risk of delving into drooly sportswriter-ese here, but this is the team that trots out Omer Asik on a broken leg, puts out a press release stating that Luol Deng is more or less good to go despite a broken leg, while running various players through incredibly heavy minutes despite obvious fatigue, potential injury flare-ups, or winning score – and somehow they get away with it. Mainly because they keep winning.
Chicago is allowed to do this because it has acquired a series of professionals that don’t mind the, hell, let’s call it “abuse.” Players like Noah that give their all, working in spite of a ceiling that was knocked down from championship-level the second Derrick Rose clutched his right leg last November. This is the sort of team that stares down the Miami Heat with Nate Robinson and Nazr Mohammed, so the idea of potentially sitting out games down the stretch in order to potentially meet the Nets and Indiana Pacers in a playoff bracket feels like an art crime, of sorts.
Of course, Chicago might not be able to help themselves, down the stretch.
The team does take on the Wizards this Saturday, in Washington, in a contest that will be pumped up by the fact that both teams are quite aware of their station in the playoff standings. Chicago will also have a showdown with the New York Knicks on April 13, a nationally televised affair that will pit a desperate Knicks squad, looking for a playoff berth of its own, against a Bulls team that embarrassed them the last time they took to the national stage.
Beyond that, though, Chicago has games against the woeful Bucks, the tanking Pistons, the not-there-yet Orlando Magic, the out-of-it Minnesota Timberwolves, and a Charlotte Bobcats team (on the last night of the season) with an assured playoff seeding status. Chicago has to fight and scrap its way to 90 points against teams both good and terrible, nothing is assured with this offensively-challenged squad, but these are winnable games.
Which is a long way of saying, somehow, that this group still has a chance at 50 wins. With Derrick Rose only playing a handful of games, and shooting 35 percent in the contests he did perform in. With Luol Deng being traded for what might end up as a pair of second round picks. With Kirk Hinrich (who might be playing his final season as a Bull) unable to shoot straight for the first half of the season. With Carlos Boozer shouting a lot.
But, yeah, sure – go ahead and vote someone else besides Tom Thibodeau for Coach of the Year.
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