The Bulls clinched a playoff spot with their win over the Hornets on Monday, and despite their current position as the four seed in the standings, many believe they’ll be one of the East’s tougher outs.
Chicago has a history of playing hard under head coach Tom Thibodeau in the postseason, even when undermanned. And with so many games missed by the team’s stars this season due to injury, the fact that they are beginning to get healthy may be reason enough for the rest of the league to take notice.
Joakim Noah may be perhaps the Bulls’ most important player, and he knows as well as anyone that his team will bring it once the playoffs begin.
“I still think we’re the toughest team to beat in a seven-game series,” he said.
Would anybody be surprised if this season ended with either an NBA Finals appearance or a first-round exit? That’s how up-and-down it has been, with moments of brilliance and buffoonery. The Bulls remain 15-4 in the mere 19 games their starters have been intact.
In a perfect microcosm of this season, one of those injured starters returned, with Jimmy Butler posting 19 points and nine rebounds in 39 minutes, 30 seconds after missing 11 games to a left elbow injury. But Noah was a late scratch with what the team called “general soreness” but in truth was a precautionary move tied to his offseason left knee surgery.
Derrick Rose may return to contact practice this week, and obviously having him back would be a huge boost to Chicago’s chances. Butler appears to be good to go, and Noah was sidelined simply due to maintenance, which comes with it a minutes limit that may be a point of contention once the playoffs begin.
Noah’s not wrong. But the Bulls are going to need their full complement of players available in order for his statement of bravado to become one of reality instead.