Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bleachers' Brew #308 Chicago Hope (without Derrick Rose)?

This appears in the Monday, April 30, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.

Chicago Hope?
by rick olivares pic by dennis wierzbicki

When Derrick Rose fell to the floor with a little over a minute to play in Game One of the first round NBA playoff series between the Chicago Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers, I put my hands over my head in horror. Watching Rose writhe in pain while clutching his knee, I knew that he tore up his anterior cruciate ligament.

The Bulls won the match but the aftermath was the polar opposite. I could only imagine the pall of gloom that descended upon the Bulls’ locker room. It’s one thing for a team to win without their superstar during the regular season but the playoffs are all together another creature. The Bulls know that with a healthy Rose, they have a chance to win the NBA title. And now, well, deflated as the team and their fans are, they all cling to the saying that while there’s life, there’s hope.

The bright side for the Bulls is that they gallantly played 27 matches (they went 18-9) without Rose during the regular season so the adjustment without him will not be that much difficult. But how far they go is anyone’s guess for the playoffs are where the superstars step up their game by a notch or more and teams adjust better during the course of the series.

What’s left of Chicago’s depth chart at point -- CJ Watson, John Lucas III, and journeyman Mike James – have to play above themselves. Should the Bulls still beat Philadelphia, they’ll most likely face the Boston Celtics who will be more than a handful with Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen at guard. And if they still make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals where everyone and their mother have pegged the Miami Heat to go, well, there’s Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, and Mike Miller (although they use LeBron James as a point forward from time to time).

The Bulls will need plenty of help. Rip Hamilton has to turn back the hands of time to recall his sniper days from Detroit. Kyle Korver has to be this edition’s John Paxson and Steve Kerr. Luol Deng, the sole remnant of the Bulls teams of the mid-2000s revival (when they had Ben Gordon, Andres Nocioni, Kirk Hinrich, Tyrus Thomas, and Chris Duhon), has to lead this team. Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson, and Omer Asik have to bump, thump, and score inside.

Listening to NBA analysts post-Game One, the consensus is the Bulls are done. They might get past the Sixers but anything else is a run of Memphis and Golden State proportions (of their recent playoff successes). On the other hand, history has not been kind to basketball teams that lose their star players in the playoffs.

During the 1998-99 post-season, the New York Knicks were making hey in a league without Michael Jordan when center Patrick Ewing suffered an Achilles tendon injury in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals against long-time nemesis Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers. The Knicks, with Larry Johnson, Marcus Camby, Latrell Sprewell, Allan Houston, and Kurt Thomas had enough to beat the Pacers in six matches. However, once they got into the Finals, their smaller frontline made for easy pickings by the San Antonio Spurs Twin Towers of David Robinson and Tim Duncan.

During the 2008-09 season, the Houston Rockets were in the midst of a great season where they finished second in the Midwest Division with a 53-29 record; one game behind the first place San Antonio Spurs.

Behind center Yao Ming, they defeated the Portland Trailblazers in six games to earn the right to face the Los Angeles Lakers who not only topped the Pacific Division but also had the league’s best record that year with 65 wins and 17 loses. Houston beat the Lakers at the Staples Center in Game One. However, Yao injured his left foot in Game Three as the Lakers took a 2-1 series lead. The Chinese center would later be diagnosed with a career-threatening hairline fracture on his foot (and he would be out in two years) but the Rockets used their teammate’s injury as a rallying point to send the series to a seventh and deciding game. But the Lakers eventually prevailed 89-70.

Since Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau made a name for himself as an assistant coach to Glenn Rivers with the Celtics where he masterminded their punishing defense, he has been praised for his coaching chops. In fact, he was last season’s Coach of the Year.

This year with Rose in and out of the lineup, he has done an even better job (considering the crazy schedule that has really hurt teams with injuries and not enough recovery). But sans Rose from hereon, this is where we really get to see whether Thibodeau, the defensive whiz, is also a miracle worker.

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I was thinking, "This could be the year of the Bulls." And I thought that bringing in Rip Hamilton was huge. And then Mike James. Both came from the Detroit Pistons. In a deja vu moment, I remembered how the 1995-96 Bulls team had two former Detroit Pistons in Dennis Rodman and John Salley. Oh, well...

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