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Bulls Wed Apr 03 2013

Bulls Have 9 Games to Figure Out How to Stay Healthy

Bulls_200.pngWhile no player is held up in an ICU bed ordering hospital pizza smoothies, the Bulls have plenty of bodies that need physical (and one that needs mental) recuperation before the unpredictable first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs commence. With Joakim Noah, Marco Belinelli, and presumed out-for-the-year starting guards Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton already missing extended action, Taj Gibson also hit the inactive docket after he went down with an MCL sprain in the 90-86 loss to the Washington Wizards last night. The Bulls just have one thing to accomplish over the next nine games: to get healthy.

Aside from the assumed Heat-Bucks matchup where the Heat will do what they do, anything can happen between seeds 2-7 in the East. A lower seed could easily "upset" a higher one. The Bulls know how to win big games, but whether they can do that four times in a span of seven matches is another story. With all of this year's surprise revelations realized (Jimmy Butler's emergence and Noah's full potential met) and early season expectations turned into disappointments (Rip's scoring and body breakdowns, the Rose waiting game, and complete lack of consistent three-point bailouts), it's safe to say this Bulls team has to play a perfect game of team defense, getting to and then converting at the free throw line, out-rebounding, and out-hustling an opponent to win a playoff series.

The team is in flux, playing mediocre basketball against limited teams and are just trying to make it to the playoffs in one piece. This last week is a great sample of what the Bulls can do, and have done all season long. Looking at stats courtesy of NBA.com, the Bulls just don't play as well in the fourth quarter as they do in other quarters, which was evident in the Dallas Mavericks' 15-1 run to close out and win the game on Saturday. The obvious reason why they don't play as well in the final period is that they don't have a go-to scorer, or a three-point-specialist run stopper. Easy buckets are cumbersome without Noah down low tipping in rebounds. Help isn't on the way either.

Over the last five games without Noah, prior to Tuesday's clash with the Washington Wizards, 25% of the team's points have come off three pointers, where the season average is 16%. Without their starting center grabbing offense boards and getting easy put backs, or sans his great passing and playmaking ability in the paint, the Bulls have been forced to launch from downtown. And we all know how well they do that.

In the last fourth of this season, Tom Thibodeau hasn't had an opportunity to get the normal rotation he'll use in the playoffs playing with each other very often, and probably won't, as the wise move is to start to rest guys. Putting on our WebMD thinking caps, which Bulls fans have had posted in their browser bars, we know Noah's plantar fasciitis injury is the nagging type that only gets better with rest. Nazr Mohammed has being doing a nice job fouling the other team's big man and getting his shot blocked filling-in for Noah.

Jokes aside, Mohammed played a respectable game against the Wizards, logging 36 minutes and notching 12 points and 12 boards. He'll do OK subbing for Noah and Gibson in these last nine regular season games, but the team can't afford to be playing Mohammed for major minutes come round one. Looking at 82games.com 32% of Mohammed's overall shots have been taken in close range, and 34% of the time they get blocked. Of the 44% of shots inside (but not dunks), 25% get blocked. Even when he's not being stuffed, he's only shooting 35% for the year. His offensive game is too predictable and he just had one good game against a seemingly defensively indifferent Wizards frontcourt.

Conventional wisdom would have some think that with Gibson spraining his MCL, playing time would open up for potential-rich power forward Malcolm Thomas, on his second 10-day contract, but Thibodeau doesn't practice conventional wisdom. You never can tell with Thibodeau, but betting on Thomas getting some minutes in this upcoming stretch of menial games isn't likely. It would be nice, though.

This team is spent, but a returning Noah and Belinelli will bring some much needed energy and production.

Things are only as dire for the Bulls as they've been all season long. The team that beat the Heat will show up in the playoffs, so everyone just needs to hold their breath and hope nobody else goes down. Resting of players is usually reserved for aging Boston Celtics teams or one or two seeds, but in the weeks prior to the playoffs, the Bulls can benefit just as greatly with time off.

The only losses that matter from here on out until round one are those on the injury report.

 
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