Sunday looks to have been a final demarcation of the regular season: in the Bulls last real tough matchup before the playoffs, they lost. I didn't find the result to be as close as the final score indicated, as the Cavaliers were in the lead from the end of the first-quarter onward, and often hovering around the 9-12 point mark until a quick run when LeBron James dared to sit for a few minutes. I suppose that, and other aspects, showed that the Cavs aren't unbeatable or anything (it was 'good' to see Kevin Love hold his back after hitting that late three), but I also didn't think it showed the Bulls are the team to beat them either.
That'll have to be proven when they get their real point guard back. Which, according to a 'not sure' Derrick Rose himself, is 'likely' this week. So I hope every one has their predictions slips still in hand, where you looked at the surgery date and figured 'eh, he'll take the maximum recovery time' and counted 6 weeks out.
Now, WHO KNOWS, but provided Rose does come back soon he'll will only have a handful of regular season games left. It'd make things really nice if they held on to the three-seed and so the first round of the playoffs were kind of a training ground as well. We can already assume Rose will be on a minutes restriction upon return, and I'd rather see them be lesser-impact minutes against Milwaukee (though MCW is can be a factor defensively) than against John Wall and the Wizards.
Since we last looked, the Bulls have held on to their 1-game lead over Toronto, who lost both games of a back-to-back this week against sub-.500 opponents. As much as the Bulls may be scuffling, Toronto looks to be in even worse of shape. That's the key, since their remaining schedules are fairly similar: with 5 games remaining starting Wednesday, each team has the Orlando/Miami road back-to-back, with the Raptors facing Charlotte home-and-away plus another game at Boston, while the Bulls have a gimme home game versus the Sixers but finish in Brooklyn then a home finale against a hopefully-resting Hawks team.
These final 2 weeks, and hopefully a first-round playoff series, will be just about getting this team right again. The story after the game was how 'confident' the Bulls seemed even after yet another moral victory, but Noah seems to have it all in perspective, per usual.
You don't want to skip steps. We know these next five, six games are very important for us. We just have to get better as a team.
But if the opportunity presents itself and we can play Cleveland, I would be very happy. We would be very happy as a team to be able to do that.
There is more to do than just 'getting healthy'. Rose has to be re-integrated into the offense, Thibs has to figure out what to do with this frontcourt, the defense (and defensive rebounding) needs to improve especially when that was a big reason the Bulls usually played close with LeBron-helmed teams.
I don't buy into the idea that the Bulls lack of regular-season stampeding is because they changed their mindset and geared-down until the Playoffs: guys are still playing heavy minutes, and with a Thibsian intensity. Any 'rest' they've received is due to injury, which makes for a tougher (not easier) recovery. As much as they've struggled (keeping in mind they're basically in line with their win total from last year) it's because they haven't played well, not that they've let their foot off the gas. Luckily the conference they're in allows for both the time to get things back on track, and a lack of an unbeatable opponent in their way.