Anyway, once the 3-1 Bulls finally win the series—which will likely be in Game 5—they’ll land an Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Bulls have gained some steam so far this postseason, but it’s been against the Bucks, which aren‘t exactly the Golden State Warriors. In other words, they aren‘t considered legitimate title contenders by any stretch of the imagination.
Cleveland, on the other hand, does have a realistic chance to win it all and will obviously be a tough team to handle.
Can They Defeat King James and Co.?
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Heading into the season, many predicted that the Bulls and Cavaliers would meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. Now it appears that the two Central Division rivals will face each other one round earlier. And again, that’s only if Chicago doesn’t have a colossal meltdown and allow the Bucks to win the next three games.
Cleveland won the regular-season series 3-1. Of course, that doesn’t really mean anything, as the regular season and the playoffs are two totally different stories. Chicago can beat the Cavs or any other playoff team as long as it can manage to stay healthy.
Cleveland’s Kevin Love, who dislocated his shoulder during the Game 4 victory over the Boston Celtics, is expected to miss a minimum of two weeks, according to ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst.
If the three-time All-Star is sidelined for the next round, it will make life easier for the Bulls. They’ll still have to deal with the always-dangerous LeBron James and Kyrie Irving duo, though.
Bleacher Report’s Sean Highkin made an interesting point about facing James and the Cavs:
The Bucks aren’t a serious threat to upset the Bulls in the first round—they simply don’t have the offensive weapons, and even as sloppy as the Bulls played on Saturday, Chicago lost on a last-second JerrydBayless layup. But if the sixth-worst offense in the league scored 39 points off turnovers against the Bulls, a couple of games like that against a team that features LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in the next round could cost them their title hopes.
The Bulls cannot afford to commit 28 turnovers again like they did during the Game 4 loss to Milwaukee. King James and his crew would have a field day, and that would be asking for a short series.
Never Fear: Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler Are Here
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During the 1990s, the Bulls were led by the Hall of Fame one-two punch of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Rose and Jimmy Butler are quite the combo these days. While they may not be on the same level as MJ and Pip, they do possess the talent to power the Bulls to a title this June. They just have to avoid the injured list, which can be a difficult task for both players.
Rose’s injury history has been well-documented. The 2011 MVP has undergone a trio of knee surgeries within the last three years and sat out 31 games during this past regular season. Thankfully, he hasn’t missed a game yet during these playoffs.
He has looked good out there thus far, averaging 21.5 points and 7.5 assists per contest. Rose was huge in the Game 3 double-overtime victory, recording 34 points, eight assists and three steals while knocking down five three-point buckets. Now that’s the perfect way to shut up all the “His career is over” doubters out there.
Meanwhile, Butler, who missed 17 contests during the regular season, has played in all four playoff games this year. And he has played his heart out, leading the team with 28.3 points per game and shooting a ridiculous 54.3 percent from the field. In addition, he has scored over 30 twice already, including a playoff-career-high 33 in Game 4.
“Even the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to have a tough time against the Bulls if Butler keeps playing this well,” wrote Nathan Grubel of Hoops Habit.
Is There Enough Momentum Left?
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Yes, the Bulls have enough momentum left for their second-round meeting with Cleveland. They didn’t sweep the Bucks, like many expected them to do, but the Eastern Conference Semifinals should prove to be a fantastic series.
Chicago is currently healthy. We’ve actually seen the starting five of Rose, Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah play at the same time, which didn’t happen often during the regular season. Rookie sensation Nikola Mirotic missed a contest with a bruised left knee and strained quadriceps but fortunately returned for Game 4.
If the Bulls can somehow remain injury-free and the Rose-Butler duo continues to produce, this team just might slip past the guys from Northeast Ohio.
All stats are from Basketball-Reference.com and accurate as of April 26.