Basketball season’s back and with it a renewed sense of excitement from the United Center that over rely on the Blackhawks. Chicago’s favorite son is back in game shape after taking a year off, and now the Bulls appear ready to give the Miami Heat a run for its money in the top-heavy Eastern Conference. The Bulls’ route to the NBA Finals this year is cluttered by only a couple of obstacles, but if Chicago can overcome Miami and Indiana they’ll be on their way to another late June run. The last time the Bulls were in the NBA Finals was in 1998 and Air Jordan was staking claim to being the “GOAT”.
There are many things to like about this year’s Bulls, a list topped by the health of the team. By the end of last year Chicago was without D-Rose, Hinrich and Deng. Nate Robinson was his usual spark-plug self and willed the team into the second round only to be demolished by Miami. It was a valiant effort nevertheless.
The Bulls open the season on the road against the defending champions . Derrick Rose will be thrown right into the fire against Mario Chalmers and Miami. The matchup will test the defensive-oriented Bulls’ ability to shut down Miami’s inside presence. The Heat signed Greg Oden in the offseason after seeing how much trouble they had with Roy Hibbert and David West in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls of are one of the longest teams in the Eastern Conference having to matchup with the Pacers several times a season because they are in each other’s division. The effectiveness of Noah and Boozer will be crucial to easing the burden of Rose’s return.
The 900-pound issue in the room is stopping Lebron James when the game’s on the line. No other NBA team has been able to do it for two consecutive seasons. The Spurs were very close to pulling it off in Game 6 last year, but Miami snatched the title away from them with a late rally.
As Bulls fans we mustn’t forget about the Pacers in the Central Division, and perhaps even the Cavs who – with Kyrie Irving and yet another top overall pick in Anthony Bennett – could pose more problems for the Bulls that might be imagined in a Heat-centric universe. The Pacers are clearly the team the Bulls need to beat in the Central. With the season standings being of such vital importance come playoff seeding time, it’ll be important for the Bulls to get that second seed to hold off Miami until the Eastern Conference Finals.
Perhaps D-Rose returns to his 2011 form when he won the MVP. Perhaps he’ll get his team back to the top of the Eastern Conference standings like he did that year, but most important will be for him to remain healthy throughout the season and get more comfortable with his body’s new limitations.
By all accounts, Chicago is the second best team in the Eastern Conference behind King James and the Heat, but it’s not a forgone conclusion that these two teams will meet for a trip to the finals. There’s a lot to be sorted out before that matchup is realized. However, with the other strengths of the team and with Rose looking so good, fans cannot help but imagine what kind of series that’d make next June.