Things haven’t gone exactly as planned for the Chicago Bulls this season. With the return of Derrick Rose, the additions of Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic and the continuity between reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah and hard-charging coach Tom Thibodeau, many slotted them in as the favorites to win the Eastern Conference.
Rose, of course, is injured again — though believed to be close to a return — Thibodeau’s job is in question, and Noah hasn’t been himself for much of the season after knee surgery over the summer. The Bulls can still surge into the NBA Finals, but in the eyes of most analysts they’ve taken a distinct backseat to the Atlanta Hawks, and the team who beat them Sunday afternoon 99-94 — the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But outside perception (and even scoreboard results) don’t seem to change the Bulls’ swagger. “I think we're a confident group," Noah said after the game. "And it would be great to play [the Cavs] in the playoffs. It would be very, very exciting, something that I really hope happens.”
This, of course, after Noah called LeBron James some nasty words amidst the heated contest. Feast on this, lip-readers:
Noah also stoked an old fire, by clowning on the city of Cleveland — a place he finds very boring. "This is a great place to play basketball," he said. "Other than that, there's not much else to do. But when you get onto that court, it's a great place to play basketball. That's as much love as I'll give to Cleveland.”
If the Bulls and Cavs do indeed meet in the playoffs, there will be one clear winner: us. This is a fun, old-school rivalry, with major characters who have genuinely negative feelings for each other, and a ton of personality on both sides of the court. This is not to mention the potentially terrific level of play, if Rose comes back in effective form.
— John Wilmes