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Bulls Look Strong Going Into Second Half of Season

By Tim Bearden in News on Feb 25, 2012 7:00PM

Aside from a few bumps—and bruises—in the first half of the season, the road has been anything but rocky for the 27-8 Chicago Bulls.

As some of the Bulls headed to Orlando to compete in the All-Star game, the others are resting from an intense first half of a shortened season. The Bulls, as with many other teams following the lockout, have had their fair share of injuries. Newly acquired Rip Hamilton, who was brought in to fill a hole at shooting guard, has missed 22 games this season. Coach Tom Thibodeau is confident his return is imminent following the All-Star break, but doesn't want to rush him.

So that brings one missing piece back into the puzzle for Chicago. And it couldn't come at a better time. The second half of the season is going to be challenging enough without injuries. Teams scheduled to play Chicago in the second half are the top ranking Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, who they play on three separate occasions, last year's reigning NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks, and other top teams this season.

With the shortened schedule, there are fewer rest periods between games, so injuries aren't going to go away as easily this season. Derrick Rose returned just before the All-Star break after he was out with back spasms. Unlike Hamilton, however, Rose isn't getting a few extra days rest, since he's starting in the All-Star game on Sunday. Thibodeau is the coach for the Eastern Conference, which could mean reduced minutes for Rose in preparation for the remainder of the season, though that's probably unlikely.

The Bulls faced Miami once already this season with a healthy Rose and lost. But it was close game and Hamilton was injured. With a healthy Rose and Hamilton, the Bulls could be favored in their next match-up.

Luol Deng has stepped up this season, filling the holes when Rose can't be the difference maker, which got him an All-Star nod. He and Carlos Boozer are averaging 15.9 points a game, tying for second most on the team following Rose's 21.8 per game. Hamilton is third despite only playing 11 games this season. Joakim Noah has stepped up his paint presence, averaging 9.9 rebounds per game. If you can get all five healthy, and keep them that way, this starting five can compete with the best of them.

But healthy hasn't been in the Bulls vocabulary this season, but even so, neither has losing. The Bulls went 7-3 when Rose was out for 10 games, those three losses coming against decent teams. The Bulls went 4-3 with Deng out with his wrist injury and have continued to shine even missing Hamilton.

If any team has faced adversity so far this season and come out of it with minor scratches, it's the Bulls. With a healthy team going into the second half of the season, Chicago could be looking at their first real Championship run since the Jordan-era.