Is it realistic for the Chicago Bulls to think about winning the NBA championship? In this sort of NBA season, anything can happen, including Joakim Noah looking like a dark horse MVP candidate, although like the rest of his teammates, he prefers the focus goes to their overall ability, and growing chances of doing something meaningful in the playoffs.
Noah had himself yet another very impressive stat line, this time with 23 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 blocks and 3 steals. He and Dwyane Wade are the only players to pull this kind of game off in the last 13 years. He got plenty of help from Taj Gibson with 19 points and 9 rebounds, Mike Dunleavy with a black & blue eye, scoring 16 points to go with 6 rebounds and 12 points from D.J. Augustin in a day that offense was hard to come by for the Bulls, winning 94-87 while shooting 39.7% from the field, which was only slightly better than the 36.5% we saw from the Kings.
As Noah said after the game, Sacramento are better than their record suggests, as the Kings did beat the Bulls by 29 points when the two teams met in Sacramento this season. DeMarcus Cousins had a great game with 25 points and Isiah Thomas had 26. When it comes to offensive talent, the Kings can probably match up with quite a few potential playoff teams. However, when it’s about coming together as a team and playing some patient, intelligent basketball all of a sudden, it seems that this team is still quite short of its mark.
Very few teams can execute this badly on offense and still come away with wins. But this might be the secret ingredient to the Bulls’ future success in the playoffs. They need to find a way to get their dependancy on Joakim Noah to reduce, trying to move the game through Hinrich or Dunleavy. They need to find better ways to get Jimmy Butler involved, and not have him try and force the game with 1-of-11 from the field. He’s not the kind of player to go off without any help from his teammates. The only player who can score like that for Chicago is D.J. Augustin, coming with a warning label on his game.
But Chicago have what it takes to make things very hard for every potential title contender when the game goes in a certain direction. Joakim Noah deserves to be an All-NBA first team selection based not just on his numbers this season (12.4 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5 assists per game), but his defense, leadership and overall influence, being the centerpiece of the Bulls’ success this season alongside Tim Thibodeau.
How does this end? The Kings are playing for nothing except maybe realizing who has a place with the team next season. The Bulls? Home court advantage is pretty big, but it’s mostly about working out ways to play the right kind of basketball without having to rely on Noah to be the center, point guard and finisher for the team while keeping everything up on defense. The Bulls have a chance to make everything that’s gone wrong these last couple of years, mostly Derrick Rose’s injury, be put on the backburner for a couple of months, but it’ll take a special set of circumstances for them to fullfill their promise in 2014.