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Blackhawks, Bulls doing fine, despite MVPs M.I.A.

Chicago Bulls Derrick Rose bench during Chicago Bulls 110-91 wover Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday February 22 2012 United Center.
| TamarBell~Sun Times

Chicago Bulls Derrick Rose on the bench during the Chicago Bulls 110-91 win over the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at the United Center. | Tamara Bell~Sun Times Media

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Updated: April 22, 2012 10:18AM


Upper-body injury.

There you have two of the vaguest phrases in sport, but ones we’re bombarded with, um, day-to-day.

And when those terms involve Chicago’s best players in basketball and hockey, they scare you in a definite way.

What if Bulls star Derrick Rose, out with a ‘‘day-to-day’’ groin injury, is so beat up that he won’t be there at full-sail for the playoffs? Or maybe not at all?

What if Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks’ leader and best all-around player out these last 14 games with an ‘‘upper-body injury,’’ isn’t the same Johnny on the spot he was before the injury? What if he won’t be his old self for the rest of the season and the playoffs? What if he’s Sidney Crosby from a year ago, out for months with injury ‘‘symptoms.’’

That the Bulls and Hawks have played extremely well without their stars is one of those discombobulating things that is hard to explain.

Nobody is dumb enough to think either team is somehow better without Rose or Toews. But it’s not easy explaining the Bulls being 10-4 when Rose is out, doing things like beating the Heat and 76ers and shellacking the Magic as if nothing is missing.

Nor is it easy to explain how the Hawks can be 9-4-1 in the last 14 games without Toews and 8-1-1 in the last 10.

This is the same hockey team, remember, that started out on fire, then lost nine in a row and now suddenly is on fire again without the man who was darned close to being the best player in the league last season?

Makes no sense.

And the beaten-up Bulls keep rolling along behind much-maligned scorer Carlos Boozer and America’s favorite little guy, Mr. Shot-A-Minute, John Lucas III.

To stop and analyze this for a calm moment is to realize the compensating is nice, but no team wins a championship without its MVP on board.

The Bulls’ success without Rose maybe is easier to understand because coach Tom Thibodeau, who just got his 100th win faster than any NBA coach ever, stresses defense and teamwork above all else.

Compared to the Bulls, other NBA teams seem like collections of me-first superstars and timid sidemen. The Bulls actually seem to like each other, an astonishing thing in the NBA. (Why, I’ve even seen them stand up and cheer for each other!) And they all buy into Thibs’ self-effacing philosophy, which is, in a nutshell: Effort wins; winning lifts all.

Critics will say, and somewhat correctly, that the Bulls play hard all the time and win these games because of this weird, shortened season that has other teams routinely losing at the end of road back-to-backs. Critics will add that the playoffs have an entirely different drumbeat from the regular season. And the Bulls might be burnt crisp.

True and true and true. Somewhat.

But what Bulls fans can hope is that this team is simply better than anyone knew with a bench like no other.

The problem is Rose has had ankle, toe, elbow, back and now groin injuries that must be the result, ultimately, of the way he plays. Which is all out, relentlessly, explosively, dangerously. There are only so many ways to jump 40 inches into the air and return safely.

Consider Rose has missed 14 games this season after missing only six his first three seasons combined. Breaking down at 23? Could it be?

The Hawks have turned things around since acquiring Johnny Oduya from the Winnipeg Jets. The 30-year-old has helped with puck possession and blue-line work, taking the burden off youngster defensemen Nick Leddy and Dylan Olsen.

And superstar puckhandler and scorer Patrick Kane has become comfortable taking over as the lead center while Toews is out. Oh, yes, that upper-body thing for Toews means post-concussion syndrome, by the way. Though it could mean arm amputation or gall-bladder distress, this is all about Toews’ head. Dizziness, vertigo, nausea, headaches, etc.

The Hawks have bought into coach Joel Quenneville’s defense-first philosophy, sort of the way the Bulls have bought into Thibodeau’s.

But each team needs its star.

It’s coincidence that Rose and Toews are the same age and have been in car wrecks this year.

But it’s not coincidence that they are wanted at full strength soon.

And there’s nothing vague about that.

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