At the beginning of this season, the Chicago Bulls were among the favorites to win the NBA championship but things have not turned out that way for the Bulls.
The Bulls lost Derrick Rose to a second long term knee injury in three years when he tore his meniscus in November. In January Chicago traded away Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Within 10 weeks, the Bulls had lost two of their key franchise players and any realistic hope of challenging the Miami Heat was gone. However, what has happened since that Deng trade has been nothing short of incredible.
The front office may have thought that the team would bottom out and drag themselves into the lottery. Instead they have ground their way to a 35-28 record and are currently in line for the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference.
To put that in perspective; Tom thibodeau has coached Joakim Noah and four role players to a point where they will be a favoured team in the first round of the playoffs.
Last night’s victory over the slumping Miami Heat was the ultimate example of what the Bulls have done to teams this season. Chicago shot 42% from the field whilst outrebounding the Heat 47-42. They defended well, created turnovers and produced second-chance points down the stretch when they needed to.
In fact, they scored 27 second chance points on Sunday as they gritted out the overtime win. Coach Thibedeau probably said it best after the game: “"Rah-rah is good, but it's more the effort plays that matter. I thought our guys showed a lot of toughness. Our guys have the will to continue to fight.''
Fight is definitely the right word to use. Let’s be clear the Bulls are not going to sweep past the Heat, Pacers, Thunder or any other playoff teams this year.
If they are even going to make it past the second round they will need to struggle through every game and give 100% every single night.
However they have certainly cemented their place as the team that absolutely nobody wants to play in the postseason.
They are 7-1 against the Heat in their last eight regular season matchups at home. That is the sort of form that can easily turn into a tough seven-game series for LeBron James and company and that is not what they want.
Those contending teams are looking for straightforward matchups in the first couple of rounds to save their energy for the big crunch games, which decide championships.
Can the Bulls win that championship? History says that no team that has so far established stars as Chicago can even make it to the finals but you certainly would not bet against a team that fights so hard.