Commentary

Actually, the Bulls can win

Deep Bulls have plenty of experience, confidence playing without Derrick Rose

Updated: May 1, 2012, 12:27 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Funny, but when Kyle Korver said it Monday, it didn't feel sappy. Funnier than that, it didn't sound impossible either.

"I don't know one good sports movie where the 1-seed cruised to the championship," he said humorously but oh so seriously.

[+] EnlargeCJ Watson
Ray Amati/NBAE/Getty ImagesC.J. Watson averaged 11.3 points as a starter in place of Derrick Rose this season.

While still sad about the news of Derrick Rose's season-ending knee injury and realistic about the impact of losing last season's league MVP, Korver, his teammates and coach Tom Thibodeau actually seem eager for the challenge.

But maybe no more than Korver, who was so introspective following Rose's devastating injury in Game 1 of the Chicago Bulls' first-round playoff series with the Philadelphia 76ers, he took to Facebook on the advice of his brother Clayton, and typed these words:

Why. Why. Why Derrick, again? Derrick is more than an MVP to our team. He's our friend, our brother he inspires us to be the very best we can be, just by who he is and how hard he plays. That he has spent so much time this year hurt, was frustrating. Now that he is out for the rest of the season, well it's just plain sad. No one is to blame; what happened, did. We send him our prayers, our love, our good wishes that he heals and comes back stronger, better, healthier than ever before.

"Bulls fans. Now is not the time to ask why or to get bitter. Now is the time to refocus and ask 'How are we going to win this Championship?' We have the best Team in the league. This season has proven, we are a TEAM and it has taken us ALL to have the best record. Let's focus on what's ahead. This is an incredible opportunity for All of Us to step up and make it happen. We're all gonna have to work harder and smarter. We are all gonna have to believe in ourselves. That we are more than the sum of our parts. We need YOU to believe with Us. We need You to believe for Us. We are going to keep going strong. One quarter, one game, one round at a time. Until it's over. That's how we're gonna do it."

Certainly not the words of hopelessness or even pessimism. Korver said he is inspired by Donald Miller's book "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life."

"It was just about how most of us try to go through life trying to live the easiest, most comfortable life possible," Korver said. "And if you look at that story at the end of the day, it's not a story you want to read. We have a good story today. It's going to be a little bit harder, and we've got to pull together a little bit tighter, and we've got to play a little bit better. But we can."

I may wake up in the morning regretting the words I am about to type. I may have simply been brainwashed by the Revs. Korver and Thibodeau, who were not so much preaching as philosophizing. But I believe the Bulls can return to the Eastern Conference finals. And once there, I think anything is possible.

Korver My grandpa has a saying that God does his best work in life's graveyards. It kind of makes sense, you know, that hopefully something good can come out of this for Derrick, for our team, for the whole city of Chicago.

-- Kyle Korver

Thibodeau spent the morning hammering one central message to his team and that is: They need to simply do their job, that no one should try to make up for the loss of Rose, that no one's role should change.

"I think it comes back to who you are as a team," Thibodeau said. "I don't want us to change. [You must] stay with what you are as a team and for us, it's the defense, it's the rebounding, keeping our turnovers low, inside-out. Whether it's off the dribble or through the post-up, the ball has to hit the paint.

"And the final thing is sharing the ball. We've got to keep the ball moving. But then we have to do that when Derrick plays also, so from that standpoint, I don't think we have to change. It's impossible to make up for Derrick's individual greatness, but our collective greatness can cover that up."

We all know, or at least those of us who have been following the Bulls more closely than, say, overheated Miami fans with an unnatural predisposition for message boards, that these Bulls are no ordinary team.

If you took Michael Jordan off any of the championship Bulls teams, there would not have even been a discussion about whether they still had a chance to advance in the playoffs or possibly win a title. With all due respect to some pretty good NBA benches, none of those teams were equipped to fill that void.

Jordan dominated play while Rose, while also dominant, facilitated it. And perhaps more importantly, none of the former teams' reserves had experience as starters the way five of the Bulls' regular bench-mobbers have had for a combined 79 starts this season (including a substantial number for backup guards Ronnie Brewer with 43, C.J. Watson, 25, Korver, seven, and John Lucas III, two.)

In case anyone needs reminding, the Bulls played pretty well in the 27 games this season without Rose. Statistically, they played better defensively and while they scored eight less points (per 48 minutes) than with Rose on the court, they arguably moved the ball better and played a better team game.

Giving Thibodeau the task of playing without Rose while knowing it is not a fluid situation, and one thing the Bulls will not be is unprepared.

"The big thing," Thibodeau said, "is in many ways, we played more than 27 games without Derrick. We played a lot without him, so from that standpoint, we know exactly what we're going to run. …

"Look, our starters have only played together in 15 games. The versatility of that second unit; for them, putting a guy in the starting unit is not a big adjustment and vice versa. … Those guys go back and forth all the time and have handled that extremely well."

Consider this, as well. If the Bulls get past the second round (which would be an easier task if they play the Atlanta Hawks) and actually meet Miami again in the Eastern Conference finals, they will be the Cinderella story of the year, the nation's darlings and be carrying considerable momentum from having obviously played well to that point.

And at that point?

Well, yeah, that's when pixie dust will be required. But I'm guessing they will have picked up a few believers by then.

And Korver will be leading the way.

"When things are tough, that's when a lot of good can happen in life," he said. "My grandpa has a saying that God does his best work in life's graveyards. It kind of makes sense, you know, that hopefully something good can come out of this for Derrick, for our team, for the whole city of Chicago."

Maybe, he said, those 27 games were fate's way of preparing them for what they are facing now.

"We feel like we have enough to win with and Thibs' saying is ingrained in our mind -- we have more than enough to win," he said. "But we believe it. If you hear something enough, it sticks with you and we have a lot of faith in C.J. and John Lucas and ourselves. And we're going to go out there and play hard and see what happens."

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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