Every season, the Bulls under Tom Thibodeau seem to make it to the playoffs. Only once has the team moved past the conference semis, and this season will be no different.
The Bulls enter into the playoffs healthier than they normally do, but at the same time they are still significantly banged up. Derrick Rose is recovering from a knee injury, the frontcourt is hampered with injuries to Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, and shooting guard Jimmy Butler has been mortal after returning a few weeks ago from his own injury.
The Bulls early success in the playoffs in past years has been largely due to the teams suffocating defense that always seems to lock down tighter as a playoff series progresses. But what always dooms them against better, deeper teams is their own inability to find a consistent primary scoring option. They lose hard fought games down the stretch because they can never close gaps if they get behind.
While I believe that Rose will emerge as that threat in the first round during his first playoff series in three years, the Bulls are in absolutely no position to win games from behind. This is a team designed to maintain leads rather than regain them. The Bulls have more offensive weapons than in years prior, in particular in the frontcourt; the new additions of veteran Pau Gasol throwing up constant double-doubles and rookie Nikola Mirotic spacing the floor and finding late game offense, the Bulls will push teams even further. But against teams with better length, athleticism and pacing, the Bulls won’t be able to keep up.
They face off against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, and behind the strength of their frontcourt, the Bulls should be ahead for most points in the series. But if they move on, they will likely find themselves playing against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference semis. The Cavs present too much of a challenge with their depth and pacing, and the Bulls go home at the familiar time of year.
And now, we hitch a covered wagon westward to the Western Conference.
Next: Golden State Warriors