The two teams with the best records from each conference, the Chicago bulls and San Antonio Spurs seem to be the Rodney Dangerfield of the league. Zero respect. The Bulls were dismantled with countless injuries during the 66-game schedule and still managed to finish with a very impressive 50-16 record. Derrick rose missed 27 games and this team never fell apart. In fact, despite all the injures this Bulls team only lost back-to-back games once. Think about that for a second. Countless back-to-back games and even having to play three games in three nights; this team only dropped consecutive games one time.
They won so many big games without Rose; Beating the Heat courtesy a D-league drifter in John Lucas III. Then beating the Heat again when Rose returned but shot a dismal 1-13, which led to him to being benched late 4th quarter in favor of CJ Watson. Watson only drained the game-tying 3 to force overtime and then made key baskets in the overtime to secure the win.
The Bulls exude team work. Nobody is above anything head coach Tom Thibodeau asks from this unit. In fact, Thibodeau has Rose's ear and respect. Think how rare it is for the star player waning to be pushed harder. Rose then demands the same from his teammates. Carlos Boozer, who has often been questioned for his lack of effort, has shown great commitment on both sides of the court. Now while Boozer will never be confused with Taj Gibson on the defensive side of the ball, just displaying more effort on help defense has opened eyes, including mine, who was his biggest detractor coming into this season.
However, with all that said about the Bulls, somehow teams feel they matchup better with the Bulls for the Playoffs. The one thing these teams can never match is the hard work, intensity and commitment that goes into achieving the best record for the second consecutive season in spite of said injuries. Rose, Deng and even Hamilton may not be 100% healthy, but they will certainly put forth an effort that is greater than that number. If they can make their free throws in the clutch, they will be the team others will regret wishing to have played.
The Spurs have been thought of as old for a few years now. However, after being bounced in the first round last year, they dusted themselves off and just dominated the regular season while resting their aging veterans sporadically. The key was how well the new blood stepped up and carried the load. Guys like Danny Green, Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and even Patty Mills.
Greg Popovich did an amazing job of incorporating youth with the experienced age that contributed to multiple championships throughout the last decade. I was even guilty of saying this Spurs team has nothing left and it was time for other teams in the West to step forward and make it their time. However, the core group of the Spurs, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and even the baby of the group Tony Parker all showed they still have a will to win.
With that said, I continue to hear that teams like the Thunder, Lakers, or Clippers will be the ones representing the Western Conference in the NBA finals. From what I’ve seen this is not the same Spurs team, and I think losing in the first round last year made them hungry again. It also helps drawing the Utah Jazz instead of a team like the Memphis Grizzlies that just created so many matchup problems for them. I think this year the rest of the conference may be in for a rude awakening if they think this Spurs team will roll over and die come this postseason.