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TELANDER: No true identity for Bulls, but ‘playoff threat’ suddenly seems to fit

Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets

Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets

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Updated: April 19, 2013 1:00PM



I can’t recall a stranger regular season for the Bulls than this one.

It ended with a 95-92 Bulls win over the Washington Wizards at the United Center on Wednesday night. This left the Bulls with a pretty good 45-37 record and the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Not bad, not great. Kind of . . . yeh, OK.

But the crazy part is that after 82 games, I don’t think we yet know what this team is. I’m certain we don’t know who this team is.

Why, there in the last game were guys named Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah and our good pal Marco Belinelli from Bologna, Italy, and even the sepulchral creature known as Rip Hamilton, with his serial-killer facemask and all. These Bulls have been injured and out, and the skinny Hamilton has been like Michael Myers, appearing a couple times a year and then disappearing to wherever it is he lurks.

With these four active players — plus the miraculously-healed-from-everything-you-can-mention Kirk Hinrich — the Bulls are a very good team. I mean, you have to take your hat off to much-maligned starter Carlos Boozer for being an iron man scoring machine. And you have to throw your hat in the air for do-everything, titanium man Luol Deng, who just plays and plays.

Plus, you must tip the fedora to that blank-faced, determined kid Jimmy Butler, a decent athlete who will play 48 minutes a night, work defense like a madman, score and dunk and show great possibilities — or barely play at all, depending on who’s healthy.

And let us not forget effective big-man fill-in Nazr Mohammed, who had 17 points and seven rebounds in that last game, playing more minutes than the bad-footed Noah. And, of course, we salute the Human Super Ball, feisty, explosive, ‘‘tryin’ one!’’ Nate Robinson. Li’l Nate can dribble or dunk or chuck up emotional threes from way past the arc, some of which will go in and some of which will clang off the 24-second clock or a cameraman. Nate’s like the fizz in a can of seltzer.

But the weirdest part of all is that the above-described excellent team doesn’t even include youngest-MVP-in-the-history-of-the-league Derrick Rose. Rose, recovering from knee surgery, hasn’t played all year and likely won’t in the playoffs.

But . . . he might!

And that is the tease that is hallucinatory. If he wanted to and felt able, Rose could suit up anytime and possibly shock everyone. The Bulls still have him on the active roster, which means it’s a possibility.

We have spent this past regular season trying to figure out the Bulls’ potential, having ceded the NBA title to the Miami Heat as a given fact. But stuff happens. Kobe Bryant was lighting it up down the stretch, until his left Achilles tendon decided to snap.

Players get injured, get healthy, come and go, and all that matters is how your team comes together at the end. Yes, Rose can’t possibly be 100 percent, but just think of this starting lineup: Rose, Deng, Boozer, Noah, Hamilton — with Hinrich, Gibson, Belinelli and Robinson quick off the bench.

Regardless of what Reggie Rose said about the Bulls not putting good players around his brother, he was wrong. Rose, Deng, Noah and Boozer have been All-Stars — and that’s plenty.

Already this year, the Bulls have beaten the fourth-seeded Brooklyn Nets three out of four games. And the Nets finished with a 49-33 record, tied for their second-best since they dumped the red-white-and-blue ball and joined the NBA many years ago.

Plus, a patched-together Bulls team beat the almighty Heat two out of three games this season, including ending the Heat’s 27-game win streak without Rose, Noah, Hamilton or Belinelli. While we’re at it, remember when the Bulls ended the New York Knicks’ 13-game streak, with Li’l Nate dropping 35 points on them in his 33 minutes? That was just a week ago.

So what can’t these Bulls do?

We don’t know. If they’re healthy.

They get to spend some time in Brooklyn now, check out the new Barclays Center with its big black-curtained entrance, total Jay-Z feel, herringbone floor and a thousand subway lines just out the front door and down.

The location of the new arena is precisely where Brooklynite and former Bulls player and current front-office man Sid Green was robbed at age 13. ‘‘Right there at Atlantic and Flatbush,’’ he says. ‘‘Thugs put me up against the wall and stole my $12.’’

The neighborhood’s a lot nicer now. If the Bulls make it through Brooklyn without getting mugged by the Nets, the Heat likely will be next for them.

And what might happen then?

Maybe a surprise.



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