Updated: March 29, 2012, 1:35 PM ET

1. Just How Good Are Bulls Without Rose?

By John Hollinger
ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- The Chicago Bulls couldn't possibly win a championship without Derrick Rose … could they?

On its face the notion seems preposterous; the reigning MVP was most of Chicago's offense a season ago and remains the Bulls' primary crunch-time standby. Yet watching a Rose-less Bulls team methodically tearing another hapless opponent to shreds has to at least make you wonder.

Chicago Bulls
Paul Abell/US PresswireEven without D-Rose, these Bulls are formidable.

While Rose rehabs a groin injury, the supporting cast bashed the Atlanta Hawks 98-77 with a combination of precision offensive execution and determined, maniacal defense. Luol Deng -- a guy who shot 26 percent on 3-pointers in his first three seasons but has worked to become a great shooter -- led the way with five triples and shut down Joe Johnson defensively, but he had plenty of help. The bench dominated, led by John Lucas' "III-point" binge (10 points and five assists), and the Bulls' deep frontcourt hammered another opponent on the boards (13-8 in offensive boards, 45-36 overall for the league's leading rebounding team).

Chicago is now 12-5 in the 17 games Rose has missed, and while the Bulls have had a few stinkers in his absence, including double-digit home loses to Denver and Portland, they also beat Miami, held Orlando to 59 points and just handed Atlanta its worst defeat of the season (well, tied for it) in the Hawks' own building … exacting payback for what was arguably Chicago's own worst game this season, a 109-94 defeat here in January.

Don't get me wrong; they're clearly better off with Rose than without him. A record of 12-5 is nice and all, but they're a dominating 29-6 when Rose plays. Chicago defends about as well with or without him, as it showed again Wednesday, but against tough defenses the Bulls miss him on the offensive end. Offensively, they've averaged 6.5 points per 100 possessions more with Rose on the court, according to NBA.com's advanced stats tool. That deficiency wasn't visible Wednesday night with the 3s falling, but it has been in several games.

Which brings us to the more salient point: If the Bulls are this good without Rose, imagine how they'll be once he returns. Wednesday's tour de force lends further support to the growing impression that Chicago, not Miami, is the team to beat in this season's playoffs.

With Rose, that is. But results like this one also provide a second level of encouragement for the postseason: If Rose happens to have a setback along the way, Chicago fans can at least take solace in the team's barely skipping a beat without him. A title in his absence is still unlikely, but we can no longer say it's impossible.

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.

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