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NBA playoffs would have looked different with healthy Bulls team

CHICAGO IL - APRIL 28: Derrick Rose #1 Chicago Bulls lays floor aftrer suffering an injury against Philadelphi76ers Game One

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28: Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls lays on the floor aftrer suffering an injury against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on April 28, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the 76ers 103-91. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) R:\Merlin\Getty_Photos\143525932.jpg

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Updated: July 3, 2012 12:10PM

Game 1 of the most anticipated NBA playoff series since Michael Jordan retired would’ve started Monday at the United Center. The Bulls against the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals with story lines galore. Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and John Lucas III with the city hanging on every possession.

Instead, it’s not ‘‘Wait Till Next Year’’ for the Bulls. It’s ‘‘Wait Till the Year After Next,’’ or at least that’s how it feels with Rose’s recovery from surgery to repair his torn ACL to last well into next season. But it’s important to remember just how good the Bulls looked when they were completely healthy during an offseason defined by Rose’s post-surgery news conference.

Optimism was high when Rose and the Bulls led the 76ers late in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series, and rightly so. The Bulls were impressive in the first game of what looked to be a short series. It plummeted after Rose tore his ACL late in that game and scraped rock bottom when Joakim Noah twisted his ankle in Game 3.

Suddenly, a team that looked as good as any in the league was flawed. It couldn’t score. Irrational negativity ruled the day despite the team’s two most important players being sidelined with injuries. Blow this team up. It will never beat the Heat. It can’t win an NBA title.

A few weeks later, what have the Eastern Conference playoffs taught us? A healthy Bulls team would be prepping for a second straight playoff showdown against hated Miami. Only this time, with Miami’s Chris Bosh on the bench with a strained lower abdominal muscle, the Bulls would be favored if healthy.

The Pacers are a young, smartly built and dangerous team that can push the Bulls to the limit, but they have even more trouble scoring than the Bulls because, with all due respect to Danny Granger, they don’t have a player of Rose’s caliber. If this postseason has taught us anything, it’s that every Eastern playoff team struggles to score. 

The Bulls and Heat were the class of the conference during the regular season. Nothing that has unfolded in the playoffs changes that.

Expect the Heat to beat the Celtics and advance to the NBA Finals for the second straight year. Don’t be surprised if Miami falls to the Spurs or Thunder, however. It will be difficult for Miami to beat either team in the Finals. 

The Heat is the measuring stick for the Bulls until proved otherwise, but it doesn’t belong on a pedestal, either. The Heat is beatable, especially without Bosh, and it will have its issues moving forward. Carlos Boozer would be assured of winning his individual matchup with Bosh on the bench. As down as fans might be on Boozer after his 1-for-11 performance in a Game 6 loss in Philadelphia, he likely would be the key to the series if the Bulls were playing the Heat, as most expected.

Anticipation had built since the Heat eliminated the Bulls in Game 5 last season. Can the Bulls beat the Heat? It was the only question that mattered for Tom Thibodeau’s troupe. Not only will that question not be answered this season, but it might not be answered next season, either. 

What seemed to be the Bulls’ destiny has been delayed, their rivalry with the Heat to be continued. They are gearing up for the Eastern Conference finals in Miami and Boston. Meanwhile, in Chicago, it’s bummer in the city.

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