Look, you shouldn't root for injuries to happen to any player regardless of sport (at least publicly). But if you are Bulls fan/backer, aren't you ready to see LeBron James finally suffer a major injury? It seems only fair with what Chicago has gone through over the past four years with its best player, former MVP Derrick Rose.
But LeBron is clearly made out of something not of this world because he simply doesn't break down -- and the Bulls are incapable of getting past a James-led team in the playoffs. In 2010-11, the year the Bulls won a league-high 62 games and Rose won his MVP, they ran into LeBron's Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals and lost in five games (after winning the opener). In 2012-13, the year Rose sat out, Chicago reached the East semis but lost in five to the Heat again (also taking Game 1 again).
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And then last year, the Bulls finished 50-32 and with the No. 3 seed in the East. Alas, getting the No. 4 would have been better (which Chicago missed by only a game) because it would have meant a potential second-round date with Atlanta instead of James' Cavaliers. Chicago did have a 2-1 series lead and had tied the Cavs at 84-all with under 10 seconds left in Game 4 at the United Center. Just get it to overtime and the Bulls have to be feeling good. But LeBron, of course LeBron, hit a corner buzzer-beater for the win. The deflated Bulls didn't put up much of a fight in then losing the next two games.
If Chicago was ever going to beat LeBron, it had to be last year. Kevin Love missed that entire playoff series and Kyrie Irving was hobbled throughout it. But I guarantee you that fans in Salt Lake City, New York City or Indianapolis have no empathy for Bulls fans because Michael Jordan kept guys like John Stockton and Karl Malone (Jazz), Patrick Ewing (Knicks) and Reggie Miller (Pacers) from ever winning titles. Now the shoe is on the other foot.
Bulls 2015-16 Season Betting Story Lines
From a player standpoint, no team in the NBA will have changed less from last season than the Bulls. Their big move was re-signing point guard Aaron Brooks to again back up Rose. Chicago is thrilled with its first-round pick, Arkansas forward Bobby Portis. He looked outstanding in Summer League and the preseason. He has forced his way into rotation minutes.
The only change for this team is with Fred Hoiberg replacing Tom Thibodeau as coach. Thibs was very successful, going 255-139 in his five years and winning Coach of the Year honors in 2010-11. He also is a defensive genius. But the Bulls stagnated offensively at times, especially in the playoffs. Thibs also rode his guys way too hard in the regular season, to the point they were broken down by the time the postseason rolled around. Especially Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and former Bull Luol Deng.
Hoiberg is a totally different personality from the hard-driving Thibs; practices have been much less intense, for example. Hoiberg is also an offensive guy, so the Bulls should look a lot different. The Bulls have had eyes for Hoiberg, who has ties to the Chicago front office and played for the Bulls, for years. Other NBA teams also had shown interest in Hoiberg. So I'd expect Chicago to rise up the offensive rankings but slip some on defense.
As usual, any shot this team has of reaching the Finals, other than a James injury, is Rose staying healthy. But he suffered a broken orbital bone in the team's first official practice of training camp and had missed the entire preseason -- but was set to play in the finale Friday night in a modest surprise. Rose thus should be fine for Tuesday's season opener against James' Cavs. Rose is no longer the team's best player. That's Jimmy Butler. He was voted the NBA's Most Improved Player last season. Despite missing 17 games to injury, Butler raised his scoring average from 13.1 points per game in 2013-14 to 20.0 last year and became an All-Star for the first time. He also raised his shooting percentage from 39.7 percent to 46.2 percent. Butler is also a fantastic defensive player and the guy who draws the coverage on James. Butler got a five-year, $95 million extension this offseason.
Noah was a borderline MVP candidate and the Defensive Player of the Year in 2013-14, but he was basically playing on one leg all last season off knee surgery and really struggled -- the Cavs didn't even bother guarding him in the playoffs because Noah got so skittish to shoot the ball. If Noah can return to his form two seasons ago, the Bulls might have something. Noah has financial reasons for a big year as he's a free agent next summer. There are reports, though, that Hoiberg might start Nikola Mirotic over Noah because Mirotic helps spread the floor. So you might see a starting five of Rose, Butler, Doug McDermott (Thibodeau essentially ignored McDermott last season as a rookie), Mirotic and Gasol to start things off. Mike Dunleavy was the starting small forward last year when healthy, but he's going to miss at least the first month off back surgery. The Bulls could have a great bench eventually with Noah, Gibson, Dunleavy/Tony Snell, Portis and Aaron Brooks. The team is really weak at shooting guard after Butler. But it's loaded with bigs.
Bulls 2015-16 Betting Odds
At BetOnline , Chicago is +400 to win the Central Division, +700 for the Eastern Conference and +1600 for an NBA title. The Bulls have an "over/under" wins total of 49.5, with both at -115. Rose is +4000 to win a second MVP Award. Butler is +10000 to lead the NBA in points per game. Gasol is +2500 to lead the league in rebounds and Noah is +6600.
Bulls 2015-16 Betting Predictions
A lot of these totals feel right on by oddsmakers and are a tough call. I think this one is easy: over. Winning 50 in the East shouldn't be hard at all for a roster this deep -- again, assuming reasonably good health. It wouldn't even shock me if the Bulls won the Central as the Cavs are going to treat the regular season almost like the preseason, at least until February or so. But I probably wouldn't bet on the Bulls' division odds. Chicago wins about 54 games and loses in the East Finals to the Cavs.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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