...Bow to the masters, suck it!
Yeah that headline is a D-Generation X reference from 97'. Deal with it.
Before we get into the Bulls, congratulations to Mark Buehrle, the first White Sox pitcher to throw a no hitter in 16 years. Along with Paul Konerko, Buehrle has been the face of the franchise since the turn of the millennium, and has always been one of baseball’s most unheralded pitchers. Even though it appears unlikely to happen, we’d love to see Buehrle retire as a South Sider. He’s one of our favorite White Sox ever, and something like this couldn’t happen to a better guy.
There was only one little problem. We saw like four pitches of the game! A Sox pitcher throws a no hitter for the first time since we were 3 years old, and we miss the entire thing because the Bulls were on. We were so into the Bulls game, we almost forgot the Sox were playing. The immortal Johnny Red Kerr broke the good news just as the final seconds were ticking off the Bulls’ regular season. Say what you will about Johnny Red (he’s old, senile, old, blind, deaf, old) but those were some of the best words we have ever heard come out of his mouth.
And as for the Bulls, we’re not so worried. There are going to be tons of people between now and Game 1 against the Heat saying the Bulls ruined their entire season by losing to the Nets Wednesday night. We’re definitely not buying that. One loss doesn’t overshadow the fact that this team had a fantastic season, winning more games then any Bulls team since His Airness left. It was just an enjoyable season all around. Honestly, how many NBA teams are there that are actually likable? Three maybe four? Well this Bulls team is one of the few; a group of NBA ballers that aren’t complete thugs.
That’s the best part about this Bulls team, they win the right way. All of their major components, besides for Big Ben, are homegrown, and they’re all high character guys. Nobody is taking bereavement leave to go to a strip club like Zach Randolph and getting three technical fouls every night like Rasheed Wallace. This group of guys generally seems like they like each other and they banded together to do things no post-MJ Bulls team has done. Remember like a week ago when the Knicks were flipping out because the Bulls were beating them by too much? For those of us that remember the Marcus Fizer and Jay Williams years (or year) that was one of the most enjoyable nights of the season. A few years ago, teams were running up the score on the Bulls, now it’s the other way around. We really couldn’t be happier about this transformation.
The Bulls made the transition from competitive to good this season a couple different ways. People might automatically assume that Ben Wallace played the most pivotal role in all of this, but that could be any further from the truth. The real reason the Bulls are legit is because three guys have made the jump to become all star caliber players: Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, and Kirk Hinrich. Though they’re all still young- Hinrich is the oldest at 26 and Deng is only 22- the entire trio transformed into veterans this season.
Hinrich is the best defender on the team and one of the better perimeter defenders in the league. His defense often overshadows his offense, but after Nocioni went down, Hinrich really picked up his scoring. He posted the career highs in minutes, points, field goal percentage, and three point percentage. He’s unquestionably the leader of this team on the court and runs the show as well as any Bull since Pippen.
Deng has a great year too, probably becoming the Bulls best all around player. He’s so gifted offensively and is becoming one of the top small forwards in the NBA. Usually guys like him turn out to be second fiddles on good teams (Josh Howard, Tashaun Prince), but everyone sees Deng developing into the type of player that can carry a title contender. He improved his game as much as any player in the NBA; transforming from a 3-point chucking small forward to a dude who can score in the paint and knock down a mid-range J. He’s become one of the most versatile scorers in the Eastern Conference, and that has allowed the Bulls to contender this season.
But neither have been the teams’ most important player this season. When the Bulls recently announced their team MVP, and they awarded it to the entire team. While that’s nice, the Bulls real MVP is Gordon. The Bulls might have been able to withstand injuries to Luol and Kirk- they wouldn’t be good but they’d manage- but Gordo is the one player that was indispensable this season. Past criticisms of Ben included his streaky shooting, lack of height, and propensity to get into foul trouble. While he didn’t grow (but imagine if he did), Gordo has become a go-to scorer in this league. He finished top 20 in the association in scoring and joined A.I. as the only two players 6’3 and under to average 20 a night. He seemed to regress some in his sophomore season after a stellar rookie campaign, but Gordon’s improvement has meant more to the Bulls than anything else.
It’s also easy to forget about Notch because he missed 28 games during the second half when this team was starting to make their push, but when healthy, he can be just as important as anyone.
If there is one thing we know for sure about this Bulls team it’s that their not going to roll over for anyone. And people who think the Bulls are going to bow down against the defending champs are crazy. Honestly, we here at TUP would rather see the Bulls play the Heat then the Nets in the first round. Maybe there’s something mental blocking the Bulls from winning in New Jersey; we know that isn’t the case with Miami. The Bulls played the Heat tougher then anyone last season during the playoffs (that includes Dallas) and took 3 of 4 meeting with them this year. And don’t think Miami doesn’t remember the 42 point beat down the Bulls laid on them opening night.
Did the Bulls make things tougher for themselves by losing yesterday? Of course, but really, how good is the 2007 incarnation of the Miami Heat? People forget just how beat up the Heat are. D-Wade is more injured then he leads on, Shaq had the burden of carrying them into the playoffs for the last two months, and guys like Eddie Jones and Jason Williams have also battled injuries all season.
Objectively, it’s hard not to like the Bulls in a lot of these matchups. It’s alright to point out how Shaq could have his way with Ben Wallace (something that may or may not happen), but how about Deng and Tyrus blowing by Zo and Udonus Haslem? Wade’s injuries are going to force him to focus most of his energy on scoring, so there a decent chance Gordo explodes for 40 multiple times during this series. Jason Williams has never been good defensively, and the Glove is just plain washed up at this point. Those dogs can’t handle Captain Kirk.
The most underrated aspect of this series might be the Bulls’ big three wanting to finally garner some respect. Outside of Chicago, no one considers Hinrich, Deng, and Gordon all star caliber players, and that is what they became this season. In the NBA, more then any other league, guys yearn for that respect. They want the recognition and treatment that comes with such lofty respect and status. What better way for them to get it then by beating the defending champs?
Prediction: Bulls in 6
PS: Fuck James Posey.