By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Only 82 games and at least one best-of-seven playoff series to go before this season starts for real. And we’re sure ready for some important Bulls basketball.
Is it May, yet?
With the apparently significant 2013 NBA Exhibition-Game Championship wrapped up, Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls set out now for six months of proving once again that they can be what they’ve always been, until springtime finally arrives. Only then can they show whether or not they have become something more.
They will win. A lot. They will play smothering defense. They will out-execute and outhustle opponents most nights, compiling victories. Derrick Rose will be back to providing highlights, as Stacey King gushes a torrent of precious nicknames and perfunctory catch-phrases.
They may be the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference, after having played every possession as intensely as humanly possible.
The leaves are not done falling yet, but we will not know much more about the Bulls until the trees are once again green. Outcomes in October or January against the Heat are not predictive.
No matter what is said or written between now and the 2014 postseason, there are no “statements.” There are no incremental marking points, no material declarations of status, no portentous shots across an enemy’s bow.
Besides, LeBron James can’t hear any statements, because his rings are in his ears.
It will surprise nobody should the Bulls win the opener in Miami after another banner is raised. Rose will score 32, James and friends will be listless after ceremonial hoopla and trail by double digits, before the inevitable rally falls short against typically relentless defense. James rims out a potential game-winner, and we settle in for many cold weeks of overreaction and inflated speculation, as if none of this has ever happened before.
The Bulls own a 7-4 record against Miami over the last three years. The Heat have an 8-2 record against them in playoff games in the same span.
Some of us feel this desire to fast-forward as much out of dread as mere impatience, looking at the risk/reward balance of all the time to kill. So much more negative can occur than positive, especially understanding the physical toll a usual Bulls effort takes before the real contests begin.
History suggests a league-leading minute load for Luol Deng, as well as chronically sore feet for the already-hobbled Joakim Noah. With no other useful big man on the bench, Taj Gibson’s annual aches could begin sooner than ever as he’s pressed into overuse. Kirk Hinrich will likely experience a signature series of bizarre injuries and illnesses, including but not limited to: acute lactose intolerance, stigmata, post-traumatic stress disorder, hysterical pregnancy, spontaneous combustion, and being attacked in his hotel room by machete-wielding dwarves aligned with the Basque Separatist movement.
And this is assuming Rose comes through unscathed enough.
Before you direct any ire my way, know that much of this unease is shared by Gar Forman, John Paxson and others above Thibodeau who have noted the more careful approach taken by contending teams that are better aware that some games matter more than others. The Berto Center has not been a comfortable workplace for some time, primarily due to this disconnect over the proper budgeting of flesh-and-bone resources.
Yet all the fun begins, and it will be fun. Rose seems set to make a run at another MVP award, even if he needs the occasional day off for maintenance on his remodeled knee. It’s a flexible new offense that should mean quicker scoring chances and fewer shot-clock bail-outs. New faces on the roster could surprise, pleasantly.
Let’s hope it all ends up meaning something.