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After last season’s disappointment, I could not wait for the Chicago Bulls to get back on the court for the 2011-12 season. Of course, that whole silly lockout thing nearly deprived us of an NBA season, which would have left millions of people around the world quite surly. It was not that long ago that I was staying up until the wee hours of the morning in order to follow boring lockout meeting after boring lockout meeting hoping for some kind of breakthrough in the talks.
I’ll remember for a pretty long time that moment when CBS Sports’ Ken Berger broke the news on Twitter at about 2 a.m. CT on Nov. 26 that a tentative agreement on a new CBA had been reached. Twitter exploded as all the dedicated NBA peeps who were following along with me rejoiced with the news that we would have an NBA season after all.
What followed was a whirlwind of a month as teams scrambled to get their rosters ready for what would be a 66-game season starting on Christmas Day. As we all know, the Bulls signed Rip Hamilton after he was bought out by the Detroit Pistons, leaving many to believe Chicago had the best starting five in the NBA.
I entered this season confident, but reserved. I knew the Bulls would be great once again, but I was kind of humbled by what the Miami Heat did to Chicago in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. Because of this, I told myself to not get too excited by any regular season wins/accolades the Bulls racked up this time around. With the roster assembled, the regular season would be just a means to an end. Standards were set higher, even if I entered the season predicting the Bulls would fall short against the Heat yet again.
The year certainly started on a thrilling note, with the Bulls pulling off an improbable fourth quarter comeback on Christmas against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center. It was the perfect Christmas present and was a great way to get this crazy season under way.
I really doubt anybody could have predicted what would follow after that. Well, I did predict the Bulls’ final record of 50-16 correctly, but the way they got to that record was nothing short of remarkable.
The Bulls were ravaged by injuries all season long, and it was not just injuries to role players, it was injuries to their BEST players. Hamilton got hurt in the first week of the season and would end up missing 38 games due to several different injuries. Luol Deng played a good portion of the season with a torn ligament in his left wrist and played monster minutes with that injury. It was apparent that the wrist bothered him immensely, but that did not stop him from playing his tail off every single night.
And of course, there was the Derrick Rose situation. The reigning MVP began the defense of his award very strongly, but what seemed like an unprecedented run of injuries would derail everything. When it was all said and done, Rose missed 27 games due to FIVE different injuries this year. He had issues with his toe, back, groin, ankle and foot in that order. The injuries were frustrating to fans, but most of all, they were frustrating to Rose himself. The guy has never had these types of injury issues in his life, so it had to just kill him to be on the bench for nearly half the season.
Considering all of these injuries (and several others as well), I think most people would have laughed in your face if you told them the Bulls would still win 50 games and earn homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. But that’s exactly what they did, thanks to Tom Thibodeau’s relentless coaching, the Bulls’ marvelous bench and defense. Thibs did a masterful job getting his players prepared night in and night out, as well as finding combinations that worked despite so many key guys missing time. Thibs is never afraid to bench a starter in favor of a “less talented” player if that guy is working harder or simply playing better. We saw countless games this season where the “Bench Mob” actually outplayed the starters, and we even saw guys like John Lucas III and Mike James being difference makers against playoff teams. Raise your hand if you saw that one coming. Nobody? That’s what I thought.
And just how good was that Bulls’ defense?
They led the league in points allowed at 88.8 points per game, which was actually a franchise record. They led the league in defensive efficiency. They led the league in effective field goal percentage against. They were one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the league. I could keep going, but I think you get the point by now. The Bulls’ defense was not only good, they were mostly dominant.
I also must take some space to give some kudos to Carlos Boozer, who started all 66 games in the regular season and was pretty darn solid. Boozer was much maligned after his rough go of it in the playoffs last year, which gave him some motivation to get in shape and come into this year in tip-top shape. There’s still plenty of people calling for Taj Gibson to start and Boozer has to play well in the playoffs to win my heart, but I have to give credit where credit is due.
We now head into the postseason, which is what I’ve been waiting for all year. The regular season was fun and had plenty of great highlights, but now it gets real. I still have questions regarding the Bulls’ title chances, with most of them revolving around the health of Rose. He’s still battling back from his numerous injuries and while I think the Bulls can win a series or two with him not on his game, I see little chance of beating the Heat if he’s not good to great. Either way, if you thought this regular season was nuts, just wait for these next couple of weeks.
The Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers kick off the postseason at noon on Saturday.