For all of his other-worldly talents, Derrick Rose's humility may be his most transcendent. In today's NBA, not to mention the sporting world at large, with millions of dollars and temptations seemingly around every corner, the Chicago Bulls superstar remains as humble as a high school bench player. He seemingly always says the right things, puts his team before himself and values wins over his own statistics. He downplays praise, shares it with teammates and is quick to point out other players' skills and contributions.
I'm not sure anyone -- and the NBA is filled with hundreds of players who prove this -- could watch so many people drink their Kool-aid and not think themselves pretty darned special. Not Rose, who despite having the best-selling shoe in basketball and being voted the captain of the NBA All-Star game this past February, would probably rather get a root canal than discuss his merits with the media.
That's precisely what made his on-court display on Saturday so enjoyable and, ultimately, a bit of a revelation. As he took over the final minutes against the Milwaukee Bucks, every ruthless drive, every dish to an open teammate, every made shot resulted in the Derrick Rose Angry Face™. The humble persona we know through ESPN is, by all accounts true; but that's not the persona that takes the court for the Bulls.
Basketball Rose is a killer, plain-and-simple. The kid will take your beating heart, dribble it through his legs and do his patented backscratcher dunk with it before you hit the ground. His latest evisceration of Milwaukee was his deepest foray into taking over a game to date -- and it revealed the truth of his belief: On the basketball court, there's no one better.
With that in mind, the Bulls arrive home riding a four-game winning streak to play the playoff-bound Philadelphia 76ers, led by former Bulls coach Doug Collins. The 76ers are really unique -- not only in the way they play, but also in the way their season has gone. After starting 3-13, Philly figured something out and has gone 34-23 since.
Two things seem to have made the most difference: First, uber-athlete Andre Iguodala has bought into Collins'system and is being used in a much more effective manner than he was with former coaches Eddie Jordan or Jim O'Brien. And, second, Collins seemingly looked at a roster filled with speed and relatively diminutive players and decided the 76ers would be a running team. The 76ers score 17.7 fastbreak points per game, good for 3rd best in the NBA.
The Bulls have split the season series with Philly, first with a bizarrely lopsided 45-point victory just after losing Joakim Noah to a thumb injury, and then losing in Philadelphia because of a sub-par defensive effort and some late-game heroics from Andres Nocioni (?!). Withthose two outliers in mind, I hope tonight's game will illustrate how these teams truly match up. This will be the first time Philly sees Chicago's full complement of players, in what could end up being a preview of the first round of the playoffs.
As for the state of the 76ers, I give the floor to the fantastic Liberty Ballers blog:
76ers To Watch For
Point guard Jrue Holiday, who when drafted was the youngest player in the league, has finally come into his own, adding some consistent offensive output to his already stellar defense. Undersized shooting guard Lou Williams is a feast-or-famine guy, but he has the ability to be a spark plug off the bench. Former Bull and number one overall pick Elton Brand plays out of position at center, as Philly often employs undersized lineups to keep their transition game humming.
Bulls To Watch For
There are some difficult match-ups here for the Bulls, as Rose will take on a quality physical defender in Holiday and Luol Deng will face an elite athlete in Andre Iguodala. Thus, the advantage for the Bulls will be in the post, as once again Chicago will try to jump start the Joakim Noah-Carlos Boozer combo by slowing down the pace and playing a half-court game. Don't be surprised to see Omer Asik get quality minutes as he gives the Bulls a huge advantage on the glass while still being able to run the floor.
The Bulls try to preserve their two-game lead in the Eastern Conference tonight at 7:00 CDT on NBAtv nationally and WCIU locally.