Ladies and gentlemen, this season’s MVP.
In a prior NBA post, I (Ben) wrote this: “The Bulls are good. And Derrick Rose is very good. Scott Guldin has reason to be optimistic about his squad. If it can get Orlando in the second round and let Boston and Miami beat each other up, Chicago could steal the East.”
The only way the Bulls-Magic would meet in round 2 would be if the Bulls finished 1st and the Magic remained 4th (or slipped to fifth but still won its first-round series). And anyway, the Bulls match up horribly against the Magic; until the trade, the Magic had defeated the Bulls sixty bazillion straight times, by a combined total of forty-seven kajillion points.
The Eastern Conference standings after tonight’s games:
|1||y – Chicago||48||18||.727||–|
|2||x – Boston||47||18||.723||½|
|3||x – Miami||46||21||.687||2 ½|
For context here, you need to know the following facts:
1. Scott Guldin really likes the Bulls. Always has. So long as he has drawn breath upon this earth, he has loved the Chicago Bulls. True fact: He’s the first and only baby in recorded history to emerge from the womb wearing arm sweatbands and Air Jordans.
2. I (used to) really hate the Bulls. I don’t recall exactly when my dislike of Jordan spilled over into intense hatred, but I think it was sometime during the ’92 Finals against Portland. All those threes, that replayed-until-the-end-of-time shrug as he ran back downcourt, as if to say, “I can’t help that I’m a basketball god and these Portland Trailblazers are mere gnats flitting about my immortal face.” Jordan had unearthly talents, and while he had every right to rub them in his opponents’ face with a pathological competitiveness burnished into commercial gold by Nike and eight million other sponsors, I hated him for it, not least because this was the type of commercial my hardwood hero was starring in:
And this was still long before he stabbed a knife through Utah’s heart, twice, in the Finals.
3. Scott Guldin and I, despite our vastly different views on Air Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, maintained (and still do) a remarkable friendship and watched about 800 NBA games together during college. And this time period encompassed the ’97 and ’98 Finals, for the record.
4. Since then, Ben has actually grown to appreciate the Chicago Bulls, especially this year’s squad, which has three former Jazz players, even though one of them is Carlos Boozer. This is a foreign but not entirely unpleasant feeling for me. I’ve never had a rooting interest in the East, and my appreciation for Chicago is enhanced all the more by its chief rivals: the despicable and bipolar Miami Heat, with possibly the worst fan base in the league; the proud but arrogant Boston Celtics, who have overstayed their welcome on the main stage; and the insufferable Orlando Magic, which has had, for reasons still unclear to me, every single one of its games nationally televised for the past eight seasons. (This is of course a bit of an exaggeration. But there’s only so many hoarse, ranting Stan Van Gundy timeouts we can listen in on without wanting to put our head in the oven.)
Now I find myself in the even-more-foreign position of being more bullish on the Bulls’ title chances than Mr. Guldin himself. He will no doubt scold me for being so reckless in my optimism and perhaps contend I’m invoking some kind of Voreblog curse upon Chicago. That’s not what I’m trying to do here, Scott. I’m trying to say, Your team is ready now. And I’m not alone.
“They’ve got a good, balanced team and the league’s MVP [in Rose],” Jordan said. “That kid has come into his own and has matured quite a bit. I told [former teammate and current Bulls operations chief John] Paxson, ‘You guys could be the best team in the East if you keep playing the type of basketball you have been playing.’ ”
Horace Grant was even more optimistic: “Hey, they have a very good chance to win it all this year.”
I watched them decimate my Jazz on the same night that the ’91 champs were honored. Rose hit five threes in the first period. (Sound familiar?) Granted, Utah is sliding its way into the lottery and but a specter of its former self. But Chicago dispatched the Jazz with terrifying efficiency, hitting a franchise record eighteen three-pointers. Somewhere, Jerry Sloan is banging his head against a John Deere.
Scott, I don’t want to get ahead of myself here. But I’m looking at Chicago’s schedule for the rest of March and I can see them running the table. They’ve got a hot Nets team on Thursday and a chance to avenge March’s only loss against Atlanta next Tuesday. Besides that, it’s cake. I think they’re running away with it in the East. And, my friend, I’m hoping they do.