Around the NBA: The Next Big Thing - 03/25/11
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It isn’t the equivalent to the Sports Illustrated cover jinx, nor is it on the level of bad luck like the Madden curse. It isn’t even being the Brett Favre Voodoo Doll, but being the next big thing is different than being the new kid on the block of the elite.
The next big thing is nice. It’s a warm feeling of anticipation and comfort strung together. People don’t expect anything out of the next big thing just yet. There’s a belief that as the next big thing you can get to that level.
Being the new kid on the block isn’t all that bad either. The label means you’ve arrived in one way or another. No more cutsie underdog story, none of this “they’re ready to take the next step.” You’ve taken the next step. You start to get the superstar calls. A reputation precedes you. An all-out confidence overwhelms your well-being. You haven’t just stepped into this position. In this case your string of even short-term dominance and winning percentage warrants the new label.
The Chicago Bulls, former recipients of the BTR Award (Around the NBA 2/25/2011) have bypassed such recognition at this juncture. The team has emerged as an elite team in the Eastern Conference with a hellacious close-out to the regular season, most recently the 30-plus point defeats of the Kings and Hawks respectively. The team to beat label is now permanently affixed to the Bulls. The Heat might have drawn the ire and attention of all fans through the majority of the season, but with the end-of-season run by the Bulls such attention has dwindled on LeBron and company (while the ire remains consistent).
Prior to this run that included a 10-2 record in March, I had doubts about the Bulls’ ability to beat both Boston and Miami in the same playoffs, but that might not even be a necessity as the season winds to a close. A first place finish in the Eastern Conference means the team avoids one of aforementioned teams in the playoffs since the two would most likely meet in the second round.
The team by all accounts has not been playoff-tested, which is why home court advantage is such an (for lack of a better term) advantage. The Bulls have only lost four games at home this season and that type of stability on the home court is certainly sticking in their craw as the move toward the playoffs continues.
The New York Times printed the Bulls as their favorites to win the LOBT this season. Power rankings consistently put them as the first or second team in the league. Power rankings mean nothing this time of year, but the ranking shows the team is considered to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
So what reason for the ascent? How did the Bulls not nestle into the comfort of the second and third seed to close out the season?
Consistent claims say that the Boston slide has a lot to do with it, but there’s more to it than that. The Bulls are playing their best basketball at this point of the season. The dominance showcased is attributable to Derrick Rose’s play, a healthy roster, and a team dedicated to defense.
The play of Rose has been routinely talked about this season, but Rose has developed a type of quiet killer persona on the court. Prior to games against the Kings and Hawks, Rose mentioned how certain previous losses to those teams during his career energized and motivated him for the upcoming game. What resulted were massacres on the court, where Rose spent the majority of the fourth quarter on the bench in blow-out wins.
The Bulls fought through injuries up until the end of February where the team didn’t have the luxury of a heatlhy Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah on the court at the same time. Even though Boozer missed some recent games with an ankle problem, their health has given the Bulls a post presence that lacked up until this point.
When Tom Thibodeau left Boston’s bench as an assistant to take over the Bulls, he brought with him a reputation as the great defensive mind in the league, even warranted praise from veterans on the Celtics and Doc Rivers. Thibodeau’s dedication to defense has found a willing participant in Rose and the majority of the roster.
If the star player can buy into the idea, then the rest of the team will undoubtedly follow. Defense will keep the Bulls in games through the playoffs, even when their outside shooting might betray them
The Bulls are too deep and too defensive-minded to wilt under the pressure of the number one seed. The team is too young to burn out too much energy in attempts to garner the regular season conference crown.
The new kids on the block are no longer the next big thing. Their best attribute as a team is a way they defend their turf.