The Chicago Bulls play the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 2 of their opening round matchup in the 2012 NBA Playoffs tonight at the United Center. The mood inside the building will likely be appropriately somber. I know I haven't reached Stage 5: Acceptance yet on the Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief, so I can't fault those inside the UC if they're still stuck on Stage 4: Depression, too.
"Derrick gone / our MVP dead"
This is (presumably) what Kanye would say if the home crowd didn't boo him every time he walked into a Bulls game. Rose is gone and he isn't coming back for a long time. I don't think the overall severity of the injury will really set in until next season opens and he's still out, though I'm sure it'll be jarring when Carlos Boozer gets his name called last during the UC's fantastic starting lineup introductions tonight. I mean, really, Boozer? Couldn't they just announce Deng or Noah last? Insult to injury, I say.
There's a lot of really interesting subplots in this series now that our Bulls have gone from a heavy, money-in-the-bank favorite to a fun little underdog. Here are a few of them:
-- Luol Deng's wrist hurts, bad. He needs surgery after the offseason and will also miss the start of next season. Here's a question someone just proposed to me in the SBN chatroom: should the Bulls shut him down and make him have surgery now so that they're not starting the new year without their only two All-Stars?
[I think this is crap, go down (finger) guns blazin'. Still something to ponder, though.]
-- The general consensus from the fanbase is that the Bulls will for sure get past Philadelphia and will have a good chance against either Atlanta or Boston in round two. To which I counter: remember when everyone thought the 7-3 Chicago Bears were still making the playoffs with Caleb Hanie and a very manageable schedule looking them in the eye? Obviously, the Bulls went 18-9 without Rose in the regular season, so they're conditioned to play without their best player. But is Chicago being overly optimistic in thinking we'll just run past Philly? Should we be handling the rest of this series with a bit more trepidation?
-- Let's talk Rip, too. Rip looked great in Game 1. Really, he looked great for the last few weeks of the regular season, too. It's funny: we spent this whole season saying stuff like "he really doesn't feel like a part of this team", yet now Hamilton immediately becomes the Bulls' de facto primary scorer. Obviously, the Bulls will spread it around and no one player has to pick up Rose's scoring load, but Rip will certainly be expected to produce. What can we expect from Rip Hamilton the rest of this postseason?
Ricky, I'll try and take this piece by piece.
1) /shifting to all caps ... Carlos Boozer should NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER be announced last. Hold up...EVER.
It has to be Deng or Noah. Has to. I seriously debated not watching the game upon hearing this. Good gracious, I'm depressed.
2) It is pretty weird that Kanye gets booed at the UC. If you can't get cheers in your hometown, does that mean you're screwed everywhere? I'm banking on you to give him some love, Europe.
3) Luol Deng should continue to delay his surgery until after the playoffs. Shit, we've already come this far. After seeing the team's capability sans its star player, I wouldn't guess the Bulls would be particularly concerned about starting the season down two of them. It's all about finishing, right? Sure, it didn't work out this year, but this year won't be every year. Or shouldn't be, at least.
4) How far will the Bulls go this year? I think, in the wake of Rose's injury, fans have been so downtrodden and dejected about everything, that writing off the Sixers is, like, the one positive thing they were capable of. While I now think it has the potential to be a tough series, you have to let the Bulls contingent have this one. It's their one ray of hope. So if you're asking if Chicago is overly optimistic? I'd say yes, for the fans. Who knows what the players are thinking, though. It was crazy; when Rose went down, everybody on the team acted very appropriately in terms of shock, sympathy, and body language, but now, fans basically need these same players to react the exact opposite way from here on out. It's gotta be grinding and fighting and putting the one issue hovering over this team like a bad storm cloud completely out of mind. No easy task, mind you. My advice? Start with the Pippen motivational open letter. An excerpt (emphasis mine):
Play your best. Leave everything you’ve got on the floor. Yes, you lost one of your brothers—a warrior in every sense of the word—but I know and you know you’ve still got a lot of fight left. You’re still the best team in the NBA until an opponent proves otherwise. So go out there and play like it. You’ve earned that much with Derrick along the way, but you also won a lot of games without him. It’s time to meet the challenge.
WOOOOO, let's get it.
As for the ensuing rounds, you'd really like to think -- if the regular season meant anything -- the Bulls have at least a 55% chance of making the Eastern Conference finals. I choose to think that. I don't think anybody wants Miami any less. One of my favorite things about sports is seeing what type of resilience a team has when they lose their star player. This is a moment cookie cut from that stereotype. So when you say the UC is going to be down, I choose to disbelieve that. I'd like to think the fans bring what they hope the players bring: enthusiasm and will in the face of an uphill battle.
5) Rip: The second Rose went down, my mental wheels were spinning when it came to Rip's role in the offense. While more shots will obviously go to the C.J./JL3 pairing, it's not unfair to expect Rip to step up in this situation. He certainly has the tools, specifically with his mid-range game, outside shooting, and ability to free up and get open off screens. And when it comes to getting other players going, Rip's chemistry with Noah should not be ignored. As long as we're assuming Rip's health -- and it's something we have to do blindly at this point, if there's still a shred of faith to be had -- it's fair to demand a bigger offensive impact. It's really the only way.
But in the end, all eyes should be on C.J. Watson and JL3. Hopefully they watched this movie.
I love that the entire world is simply writing off Philly. That's so awesome. Bench Mob. Effort. Scalabrine. Hustle. JL3. Defense. Hot Sauce. Rebounding. Rip (76ers)*. I guess, while were at it, lets just throw Boston or Atlanta in there too. Why not, right? The Bulls are the hardest working team this side of James Brown. Old men and long range jumpers ain't got nothin' on Thibodeau's Bulls. As for the Heat, lets just table that, for now.
Ricky O'Donnell is the editor of SB Nation Chicago and the founder of the Chicago sports blog Tremendous Upside Potential. Follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.