By Adam Harris–

Not enough can be said about the job that Bulls point guard Derrick Rose has done this season. The MVP to be has lead his team to the second best record in the Eastern Conference and in prime position to contend for an NBA title this year.

As much credit as Rose is receiving and deserves, there are two keys to the Bulls this year that will push them into championship status. These keys are their continued great coaching and bench play.

The teams contending for a title this year include San Antonio, Los Angeles (Lakers), Dallas, Boston, Chicago, Miami, and with the addition of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups the New York Knicks. Everyone of these teams has at least one major superstar on their team, however the “x-factor” in determining who will truly contend for this year’s NBA title can be found by looking at the benches and the coaching of the teams.

Since the year 2000 the NBA coaches to win a title are, Phil Jackson (2000-02 & 09-10 with LA), Gregg Poppovich (’03, ’05, ’07 w/ SA), Larry Brown (’04 w/ Pistons), Pat Riley (’06 w/ Miami), and Doc Rivers (’08 w/ Boston). Three of these five coaches are future hall of famers, and I greatly respect Doc Rivers and Larry Brown.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau possesses many qualities and abilities that all these coaches listed above have. Thibodeau preaches team defense at all times to all his players, and he knows first hand that the Boston Celtics championship in 2008 was based on this concept. In fact the Bulls rank second in points allowed per game in the whole NBA trailing Boston by two tenths of a point.

Thibodeau’s ability to coach a superstar is another quality that allows him to be compared to the coaches listed above. In only half a season under Thibodeau Derrick Rose’s game has improved to MVP status which is more than Vinny Del Negro did with Rose in the previous two seasons combined. Phil Jackson helped elevate Jordan’s and Kobe’s games in the same way throughout his coaching career. Thibodeau is in the early stages of doing a very similar thing with Derrick Rose.

Thibodeau has also shown this year that he is a great in game coach. He manages the bench very well, knowing how to get the most out of his “second team” to give his “first team” enough rest. Unlike the previous two years in Chicago, I am confident that the Bulls will score when they need to coming out of a time out. This is essential for late game pressure filled situations.

Thibodeau’s team defense concept, his ability to coach Rose, and his in game coaching gives the Bulls a real chance to contend for the title this year.

Along with their great coaching, the Bulls have a great bench which was a key component to all the championship teams since 2000 that I listed above. History has shown that if you want to win an NBA championship, your team needs players that can be counted on in key situations off the bench throughout the playoffs.

This year is no different, and that bodes well for the Bulls.

The Bulls’ “second team” helped close out a game yesterday against the Miami Heat’s front line players. The fact that the Bulls can rely on their bench players to give their starters rest and not be worried about the game getting out of hand is a big factor in the Bulls future success this year. The Bulls can actually put their bench in against any team’s first line and be confident that they will either extend a lead or gain momentum in the game.

The Bulls “second team” that I am talking about includes guard C.J. Watson, forwards Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer, and center Omer Asik. These group of players understand that their role is to stop the other team from scoring. All these guys need to do is eat minutes and keep the Bulls in the game. They have done that this year, even against the best players in the league.

After watching the Bulls beat Miami yesterday, completing the season sweep, it is clear to me how much more of a title contender the Bulls are than the Heat.

Applying the same bench and coaching concept to the rest of the teams listed above, I feel comfortable saying the Bulls are more of a title contender than the Knicks and the Mavericks. The bench play and coaching will continue to be the “x-factor” in match ups throughout the.

That all being said, the Bulls only need to worry about the Boston Celtics in the East and the Spurs and Lakers in the West. No matter what occurs when May and June come around, it is safe to say that the Bulls will win a championship in the near future.

Their winning formula is right on.

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