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Column: Weak Eastern Conference keeping struggling, Rose-less Bulls in hunt

NBA Columnist

Published: Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 21:12

Aside from the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat, mediocrity has been the theme of the Eastern Conference. An astonishing 12 out of the 15 teams in the conference have a losing record, with the Pacers (16-2), Miami (14-4) and Washington (9-9) as the exceptions. The most disappointing part of the season is what has happened to 7-9 Chicago. The Bulls, who were expected to be able to challenge Miami and Indiana this year, are now forced to deal with the devastating loss of superstar point guard Derrick Rose for the entire season. Seeing Rose go down was a tough moment for the NBA as he is such a respected player for the way he plays the game for his hometown team. The long awaited “return” of Rose was cut short when he underwent surgery to have his medial meniscus repaired in his right knee. Chicago is left trying to put together the pieces and prove that they can be competitive without Rose.

The Bulls have to get over the loss of their leader and most important player the city has seen since Michael Jordan in order to save this season, which is no easy task. Chicago has experience playing without Rose – they did so all of last year – but they lacked a true go-to scorer during clutch moments of close games. The Bulls had point guard Nate Robinson last season who did his best to provide a scoring lift for the team during Rose’s absence. Chicago will once again struggle to score this year without Rose, and a bigger burden will be placed on Loul Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. Coach Tom Thibodeau has been criticized for overplaying these players in the past, but once again the success of the team will depend on the trio.

Since the injury to Rose, the Bulls have struggled to a 1-4 record. Chicago has started Kirk Hinrich at point guard and he has struggled to fill the void left by Rose. Hinrich has not been shooting the ball efficiently and has reached a high of only 13 points twice since becoming a starter. Chicago has also received virtually nothing offensively from their backup point guards. Mike James and Marquis Teague have scored a combined two points in all five games. Chicago will need better play from the point guard position in order to be the elite team that they were projected to be this season.

Chicago also misses shooting guard Jimmy Butler, who has missed the last seven games with a toe injury. Butler’s injury impacts the team because they are without the 10 points per game that he is averaging this year. Along with the 15.9 points per game that Derrick Rose was averaging, this is a huge loss for a team that likes to play low-scoring, defensive-minded games. Loul Deng has increased his scoring load over the past five games. Deng has been averaging 27.4 points per game since Rose’s injury and he will need to keep up this scoring output in order for the team to be successful.

The Bull’s have a big game on Thursday against the Heat and will have the opportunity to turn their season around. Chicago has played Miami tough in the past and a statement win against the Heat would give them the confidence of knowing that their season is not lost without Rose. Chicago will need a big game out of Loul Deng as well as Kirk Hinrich if they want to pull the upset.     

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