Never have games with so little meaning caused such hand-wringing.
Not to diminish the importance of home court advantage in the NBA Finals, for which the Bulls are now tied with San Antonio after the Spurs lost Tuesday night, but the question must be asked: Is it worth risking injury to your best players when there are still three playoff series to be played before the Finals are even relevant?
These are the thoughts that flash through your mind when not one but two Bulls went down in the Chicago's 103-90 rout of the New York Knicks on Tuesday night. Ronnie Brewer sprained his left thumb after diving for a loose ball and Joakim Noah reaggravated a sprained right ankle when he stepped on a defender's foot in the second half. Neither injury is considered serious at this point, with Noah even trying to check back into the game in the fourth quarter. After the game Noah said he was "fine" (good news) but was icing a still-swollen ankle (bad news). Ronnie Brewer told both media and his twitter followers that he would be good to go for the playoffs (confidence-inspiring) as long as his thumb is still attached (EXTREMELY NOT CONFIDENCE-INSPIRING).
Tom Thibodeau said that both instances were merely "bumps and bruises" and that "this is the NBA, come on". Still, on an evening when the Lakers lost star center Andrew Bynum to an apparent knee injury, it's hard to forget how quickly a team's fortune can change. And when a coach is handling starters' minutes like it's a game seven (Luol Deng played 44 minutes Tuesday night) when in fact the game means very little in the grand scheme of things, it's hard not to watch with a puckered you-know-what.
Still, it looks as though the Bulls will escape from New York with scares instead of scars, and there was in fact a lot to like about Chicago's play at Madison Square Garden.
First and foremost, Derrick Rose was a highlight machine, scoring 26 points on 10-19 shooting and making not one, not two, but three flat-out WOW plays:
Simply. Amazing. Even Marv Albert and Mike Fratello's hairpieces were impressed.
Luol Deng had his best game in a month, notching his eighth double-double of the season with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Carlos Boozer had 14 points and 22 rebounds, a personal-best as a Bull and one short of his career-high. The fact that he went 5-19 from the floor did not go unnoticed by this particular blogger, but he was extremely active tonight and had a sweet dish that set up Rose's baseline dunk of doom. The Bulls out-rebounded the short-handed Knicks 51-33 and had 19 second chance points.
Close throughout the first half, the game broke open when the Bulls went on a 26-2 run in the 3rd quarter from which the Knicks would never recover. Chicago is now 61-20 and has beaten every NBA team for the first time since the 1996-1997 season. Truthfully, any milestone that goes beyond the last Jordan/Pippen year of 1997-1998 deserves a heartfelt eyebrow-raising.
There is no telling what Thibodeau will do tomorrow night with his lineup. The Bulls are now tied with San Antonio for the league's best record. If they win at New Jersey and San Antonio loses in Phoenix, Chicago clinches home court advantage throughout the playoffs, which is a near-unfathomable reality. If both teams win or lose, homecourt for the Finals will be decided by a coin flip.
Either way, it's become abundantly clear that Thibodeau has no intention of resting his guys simply because some fans think he should. He is all in, every game, which he attributes to the Bulls still actually playing for something and being young enough to handle the rigors of an 82-game schedule. However, on the second night of a back-to-back, with Noah and Brewer nursing injuries and as the New Jersey Nets are an atrocious team that is missing two of its three best players, perhaps for once he will give his starters a break on their last game before the playoff grind begins.
Just don't count on it.
Follow Zachary Lee on Twitter @rightfieldsucks