The Chicago Bulls are grievously outmanned, short on offensive production and thin off the bench. They may not win another game in this series, but the sheer effort they showed in their 77-69 Game 5 victory over the Sixers was pretty inspiring. This was not what you would call a pretty basketball game, but there was something beautiful in the Bulls' resilience, fire and especially their elite defense. Even playing without Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, it's easy to see how this team won 50 games during the regular season.
The scene was all too familiar. The Bulls led 45-42 with eight minutes remaining in the third quarter, firmly in command of Game 3 against the 76ers. They held Philadelphia to just 1-of-10 shooting to start the second half, and following an emotional letdown Tuesday, seemed ready to regain control of the series. They were playing selfless Chicago basketball. They looked every bit the team that went 18-9 without Derrick Rose during the regular season.
The faces were all the same with 1:10 remaining in the fourth quarter Saturday at the United Center in Chicago: sunken expressions, hands clasped to support chins, mouths closed. And they all had to be asking the same question: Why was Derrick Rose on the court at that point in the Bulls' 103-91 victory against the Sixers when the game was already decided? Fair or not, that became the question that will loom over Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau after Rose tore the ACL in his left knee at a time when Chicago was tying a bow on an impressive playoff opener. After the game, Thibodeau was asked about his decision to have Rose in the game with the Bulls still leading by 12 despite Philadelphia's 14-6 run. "I don't work backward like you guys do," Thibodeau said. "The score was going the other way."
The 76ers will be hoping for a low-scoring series, as they are limited offensively while ranking among the best in the league defensively. The Bulls were the most resilient team in the league, earning the top seed overall despite persistent injuries to their three starters on the wing -- reigning MVP Derrick Rose, All-Star Luol Deng and former All-Star and champion, Richard Hamilton. The anemic Sixers backed into the playoffs after leading the Atlantic Division for much of the season. They'll hope to come up with easy scores in transition, but the defensively focused Bulls are likely to prevent that from happening.
NEW YORK -- This is what Carmelo Anthony wanted: Big stage, big money, big moments.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- To understand how hard it is to win a championship, consider the burdens of the Magic. They have one of the three most valuable players in the league (alongside Kobe Bryant and LeBron James) to go with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. And yet they don't look close to contending for the title over the next three months.
CHICAGO -- This is why there can be no doubt anymore of the Heat's championship potential. They came, they stunk, they won.
MIAMI -- Memories of LeBron James' previous postseasons come to mind as you watch Derrick Rose. Someday Rose will make the big jump shots down the stretch, as James has learned to do. Someday Rose will be setting up his teammates to be heroes, as James did Tuesday for Chris Bosh and Mike Miller.
CHICAGO -- If you think Miami won't respond to its humbling 103-82 loss in Game 1 against the Bulls, then you haven't been paying attention. Throughout this season Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh have been exposed, and they wouldn't have reached the Eastern Conference finals if they hadn't learned from those embarrassing times.
CHICAGO -- Wasn't Miami supposed to have a dominating 2-to-1 advantage in stars? The Bulls turned that weakness into an oppressive strength in their 103-82 win in Game 1 on Sunday. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James won't have any chance in this Eastern Conference final if they continue trying to go 2-on-5 against this stifling defense.
ATLANTA -- With 4:57 remaining in a series that produced some intriguing storylines if not last-second drama, Derrick Rose slapped palms with C.J. Watson and headed for the Chicago bench. He walked down a line of teammates, grabbed his black sweat jacket and sat down to witness reserves on both teams determine the final score.
CHICAGO -- After the Bulls' uninspired loss in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, many in NBA circles speculated that their youth was finally catching up to them. It was supposedly a classic case of inexperience wilting under pressure, a young team failing to live up to its high expectations.
As Derrick Rose limped away from a stunning 103-95 loss to Atlanta in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Monday night, the message was clear: Don't treat Atlanta like an underdog. The Hawks jumped out to an early lead and withstood the Bulls' second-half rally behind Joe Johnson's 34-point night as Atlanta, which played deep in the shadows of the East's powers all season, continued to show that it shouldn't be taken lightly.
CHICAGO -- Luol Deng sauntered into the locker room before one of the Bulls' final regular-season matchups looking relaxed, donning a gray pullover, black compression shorts and long socks that sprouted from his flip-flops. He plopped in front of his locker for a moment, lacing up his sneakers while chatting with a reporter. His glowing white smile matched the freshly cleaned jersey behind him. He stood up and glanced at Carlos Boozer sprawled across the floor, completely absorbed in game tape, and casually strolled out the door. He was loose. He was ready to play.
CHICAGO -- The last time Derrick Rose played a meaningful game against Boston he walked off a loser. His exit came in Game 7 of an epic 2009 first-round series. He was just a kid then, a 20-something playing alongside a bunch of 20-somethings who succeeded with sheer power and athleticism -- and, of course, Ben Gordon's white-hot jump shot.
One early concern in the nascent rivalry of Eastern contenders is that Miami needs to do something about Boston's Ray Allen. This is like realizing all of a sudden that Peyton Manning will dismantle your secondary if you don't pressure him in the pocket, or that you shouldn't hang a slider to Albert Pujols. You'd think everyone should know by now what Allen can do: He is a nine-time All-Star who is 89 makes away from surpassing Reggie Miller as the NBA's all-time leader in threes.
SI.com's NBA writers analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the league each week. (All stats and records are through Feb. 1.)
NBA Commissioner David Stern talks to CNN's Justin Armsden ahead of the match between Chicargo Bulls and Utah Jazz at the 02 in London.
Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov is making a play for the NBA's New Jersey Nets. CNN's Mary Snow reports.
Luol Deng's life has been turbulent, filled with drama and extremes beyond any turning points a basketball game, season or career can bring.
Chicago Bulls small forward and top British basketball player Luol Deng answers CNN's top ten questions.
Pardon fans of the Chicago Bulls if they view Luol Deng's decision not to play for Great Britain's national team this summer as something less than an NBA offseason-defining development for their preferred club.
Hakeem Olajuwon, for all practical purposes, was the first, and he remains the best. Dikembe Mutombo was the next logical step, arriving in the NBA a basketball generation later (in 1991 to Olajuwon's '84). In between, Manute Bol was a fascinating tale, testing the upper bounds of height (7-foot-7) while bringing smiles to our faces by cracking wise, swatting shots or jacking up three-pointers.
BOSTON -- How have the Chicago Bulls succeeded in pushing the champion Celtics to a Game 7? For help on this question as well as a preview of the winner-take-all game here Saturday night, I sought the advice of an NBA advance scout who is expert on both teams.
For the second straight year, Gordon enters the season in search of a new contract. Unable to negotiate a long-term deal with Chicago last summer after rejecting the Bulls' offer of $58 million over six years, the shooting guard signed a one-year, $6.4 million qualifying offer that will make him an unrestricted free agent next summer. At that time, the Bulls may be able to parlay a sign-and-trade with another team; until then, Gordon appears stuck in Chicago because his contract status makes him virtually untradable.
Recently, I spent the better part of a week training at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. If you're interested in feeling really old and out of shape, I highly recommend it.
SI.com will analyze each of the NBA's 30 teams as regular-season tip-off approaches. For a complete list of team-by-team breakdowns, click here. The information in the "Go figure" category below is provided by Roland Beech of 82games.com.
Josh Smith and Andre Iguodala aren't the only big-name restricted free agents stuck in limbo these days. Bulls guard Ben Gordon also is waiting for a new contract. With Chicago apparently unwilling to go over the luxury tax, and no other suitors left that have any salary-cap space, he might be a Sitting Bull for a while.
Rookie contracts should all come attached with an hour glass. That's because once a first-round draft pick signs his name, the leverage a team has over him lessens with each day closer he gets to being free of the rookie contract scale that can keep a player tied to a team for the first four seasons.
Less than three months ago, the 76ers had a new team president who was on the verge of trading his best shooter amid rumors that he would be auctioning point guard Andre Miller. A laborious deconstruction appeared to be underway, aimed at rebuilding with draft picks and cap space.
First the Pacers, and now the Bulls: It's as if an emerging virus is spreading through the Central Division, ruining contenders before they peak.
While Vince Carter, Ron Artest, Jermaine O'Neal and Andre Miller are among the bigger names still available, there are other players who could be on the move before Thursday's trade deadline. Here's a look at some of them, in addition to other deadline notes:
In a recent British survey, one in four respondents said Winston Churchill never existed, assuming him to be a fictitious character along with Florence Nightingale and Sir Walter Raleigh. And yet many of those surveyed believe that Sherlock Holmes, Eleanor Rigby and the Three Musketeers were real historical figures.
As the Chicago Bulls, gloom enshrouding them like a cold Lake Michigan fog, pack their bags for an 11-day, six-game road trip that begins on Thursday in Phoenix, coach Scott Skiles should consider bringing a psychiatrist on the team plane. For the Bulls are scheduled to spend Friday through Sunday in Los Angeles, a place that can make anyone crazy in the best of times, never mind anyone subjected to endless mentions of the name Kobe Bryant.
Also in this column: • Is Magic tampering in TNT role? • Win-win trade for Wolves, Spurs
The clock struck midnight Thursday, and only three more players from the 2004 draft class got their rookie contract extensions.
Bulls fans are buzzing these days -- and, no, we're not talking about those rumors of a big Chris Duhon trade.
CHICAGO -- Bulls center Ben Wallace threw a white baseball cap over his bushy afro, turned it around backward and actually smiled a little.
Scott Skiles is pretty firmly entrenched as the Chicago Bulls' coach for the foreseeable future. He acts as an extension of GM John Paxson while working from courtside, and he has the attention of the team's fan base after three straight trips to the playoffs. Skiles also has the respect of Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf after going toe-to-toe with the team owner during contract negotiations two years ago.
MIAMI -- On the subject of size, the news is not good. Its importance has shrunk.
MIAMI -- Faith in the defending champions was based on the premise that the East stinks this season. Because of that stench, it was thought, the Miami Heat could overcome their own distracted start to this season as well as subsequent injuries to Shaquille O'Neal, coach Pat Riley and Dwyane Wade.
Hang on to your mouth guard, Kirk Hinrich.
CHICAGO -- Bulls forward Andres Nocioni buried the 3-pointer to beat the first-quarter horn, turned toward the Heat bench and windmilled his right arm while letting out a triumphant scream.
1. Were the Bulls smart to not make a midseason trade?
So the trade deadline has come and gone with little significant movement. It's a surprise, really; over the previous three years an average of 10 trades were consummated in February, with several big names moved in deals that shook the balance of power.
Also in this column: • Peterson's future with the Raptors • All-Star replacements the right call?
Also in this column: • Blue Book values on trade targets • Team USA needs a shakeup • Scout's take: KG and the Wolves