The NBA season is here... finally. With that in mind, it is time to flip through the book on the 2011-12 season and to take a look at what the season might have in store -- especially when it comes to the Magic. Be sure to look out for more of these team capsules and to check out all the blogs taking part in this year's NBA Blog Preview (don't worry, I will be linking to all of them in the next few weeks ... months ... this preview IS never-ending, afterall).
Last Year: 62-20
Last Year vs. Magic: Lost 107-78 in Orlando; Won 99-90 in Chicago; Won 89-81 in Chicago; Won 102-99 in Orlando
This Year vs. Magic: Jan. 6 in Orlando; March 8 in Chicago; March 19 in Orlando
Magic Connection: None
The Previews: Your Friendly Bulls Blogger/Blog-A-Bull
Chicago felt it was close. Reaching the Eastern Conference Finals behind MVP Derrick Rose, the Bulls were almost back to those heights they saw in the Michael Jordan era. It all looked so good. The Bulls had the top record in the East and home court advantage over the dreaded Heat. Rose was seemingly scoring at will and making plays with his dynamic athleticism. He averaged 27.1 points per game and 7.7 assists per game in the Playoffs, seemingly affirming his annointment as the league's MVP.
Then the Heat happened. LeBron James sent Bulls fans home unhappy in Game Five with an incredible and improbably comeback at the United Center. For that series, Rose averaged 23.4 points per game and 6.6 assists per game (both below his Playoff averages last year), but he shot 35.0 percent from the floor including a horrendous 9 for 29 effort in the decisive Game Five.
The strategy it seems against Rose and the Bulls was to challenge Rose but force him to take shots, preferrably from the perimeter where he is not as efficient. The thing you can't allow Rose to do is wreak havoc in the paint and dish to Carlos Boozer or Joakim Noah in the post or send it out to the perimeter to Chicago's growing list of shooters.
The Bulls certainly had the goal this offseason of adding another perimeter threat and shooting to better space the floor for Rose to drive. They were rumored to target Jason Richardson throughout the summer, but eventually settled on veteran guard Richard Hamilton. Hamilton has improved his 3-point shot and is certainly an improvement (even defensively) over Keith Bogans.
But watching Derrick Rose in the Bulls' season opener against the Lakers, it feels like this might be a different Rose. That floater with five seconds left to defeat the Lakers is Rose being Rose. He had his way getting into the paint against the Lakers in the opener. He scored 22 points on a surprisingly efficient 9-for-13 shooting.
The interesting tidbit to me was that he drained four of his six 3-point attempts. That gave him an 84.6 percent effective field goal percentage. He added five assists (and five turnovers, but let's keep things positive).
Last year, he hit on 33.2 percent of his 3-point attempts and posted a 48.5 percent effective field goal percentage. He is more known for attacking the basket and getting to the rim than pulling up and hitting a jumper. But Sunday, he did that. Yes, it is just one game, but if Rose added that jumper to his game, it makes the Bulls, all of a sudden, that much more dangerous.
Rose is a young player and is constantly evolving and improving his game. And this team is one of the best in the conference and one of the best teams in the league.
He needs the collection of veterans around him to make an improvement and a leap from last year.
Carlos Boozer took a lot of flak for his poor performanc ein the Playoffs. He scored 15.0 points per game and grabbed 6.0 rebounds per game, both lows since his rookie year in Cleveland. His total rebounding rate tanked to 10.5 percent. That is not what the Bulls signed Boozer for. Although, you cannot argue with the results as the team moved up to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Luol Deng had a strong season last year but the team needs more from him as a secondary scorer. Richard Hamilton should provide a strong veteran presence and some championship experience to this team too. He also fills that need at shooting guard the Bulls seemed so desperate to fill.
The question is whether the Bulls will take that next step. Whether Chicago will get to the Finals and break out of the Eastern Conference this time. An improved Derrick Rose will help immensely in that goal. He has such great court vision and such an incredible ability to get to the basket. He is impossible to defend one on one. He will find a way to hurt you.
The Lakers learned that in the first game of the season.
How the Bulls Will Beat the Magic: Orlando and Chicago are similar teams. The Bulls look real familiar to the 2009 Magic with one dominant player and a strong collection of veterans surrounding him. The question is whether the team can catch the same type of spark that the Magic caught in 2009. Against, Orlando the key is not being afraid to attack Dwight Howard. Rose has had some issues driving in on Howard. Him staying aggression is a key to the Bulls success. What really matters though is Chicago's defense. That is what the team is built on and what matters most to coach Tom Thibodeau. Orlando can be a stron goffensive team and the Bulls are one of the few teams that might feel comfortable guarding Howard one on one with both Noah and Boozer. That makes the Bulls' perimeter rotations, which are already strong, even more important to limit and contest the Magic's 3-point shooting. It is something the Bulls can do and do well.
How the Magic Will Beat the Bulls: We saw last night how the Magic have to work against a strong defensive team that can harry and defend Dwight Howard well. It takes some aggression from the perimeter and drives to force the Bulls defense to move. That is the only way to free up the shooters that make the Magic truly dangerous. Orlando also has to establish Dwight Howard offensively and make him a threat that the Bulls have to double team. This will also open up 3-point shooters. And that is what the Magic's offense is all about. Defensively, Howard is the ultimate Rose deterrent because he can meet Rose at the rim and change his shot without fouling. That is the key to at least slowing down Rose or making his job that much more difficult.