LeBron and Co. just saw their path to a championship open up…
Derrick Rose’s injury will effectively rule out the Chicago Bulls in the race to top the Eastern Conference, and so the Cleveland Cavaliers now become a clear favourite to make the NBA Finals.
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It doesn’t take statistics to realise the impact that Rose has on the Bulls. The explosive point guard elevates them from being a good team to a great one when he is healthy and although Chicago thrives on the underdog tag, they needed him to be legitimate contenders.
His improved form was on display prior to the All-Star break with multiple performances in which he scored 20-plus points and he made it easier for his teammates around him to flourish.
Whether it’s his unstoppable ability to get to the basket or attacking the lanes to create space for shooters around him, Rose’s influence on the Bulls was such that his absence will rule them out of the championship race after being considered a favourite alongside Cleveland.
While it hasn’t yet been confirmed that he will miss the rest of the season, it is unlikely that he will be rushed back into action as both the physical and mental aspects of the latest setback will ensure that he isn’t ready to return for the playoffs.
As a result, the East opens up with Chicago becoming a nuisance rather than a rival, and while the Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards will all have a say in the matter, Cleveland must feel as though this is their spot in the Finals to lose.
Atlanta in particular have impressed this season, as coach Mike Budenholzer has transformed them into the ‘San Antonio Spurs of the East’ with their team basketball.
However, they don’t have significant post-season experience and there are question marks over their ability to compete over the course of consecutive gruelling playoff series to make a deep run.
The Raptors and Wizards have obtained a level of that experience in recent years and will be confident of making it past the opening two rounds at the very least, but the Cavaliers are becoming the juggernaut that many feared they would be.
LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love is enough to have any team on their toes, but with their trade moves they have added Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, Timofey Mozgov and Kendrick Perkins to add to an already star support cast which makes them very intimidating.
Coach David Blatt has seemingly moved past his early teething problems and the Cavs are rolling, and with LeBron on their side they have the X-factor over every team in the NBA.
It was always a question of whether or not they could piece it all together and become the new dominant force in the league, and while the best in the West will ultimately have something to say when it comes to the NBA Finals, no team should be able to stop them in the East with the Bulls out of the picture.