NBA playoff picture fuzzier without Rose

Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose is helped off the court after getting hurt during the second half of...

Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose is helped off the court after getting hurt during the second half of their NBA Eastern Conference quarter-final playoff basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Chicago, April 28, 2012. (REUTERS)

Ryan Wolstat, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 11:29 PM ET

All it took was one unfortunate, harmless-looking play this weekend for the NBA’s playoff picture to turn on its head.

When the Chicago Bulls lost reigning league MVP Derrick Rose to a torn ACL on Saturday, the playoff derby lost one of its most legitimate championship contenders.

The Bulls had the NBA’s best regular-season record, even though Rose had missed nearly half of the season.

Beating the Miami Heat, Oklahoma Thunder or San Antonio Spurs was always going to be a formidable challenge for the Bulls, but with the spectacular Rose running the show, few would have called a Chicago series victory an upset.

Now they’ll be watching the latter stages of the post-season on television.

And that’s a shame because the Bulls have been built with the playoffs in mind.

It’s also a shame for fans of the game, since only a few players are as breathtaking to watch as Rose.

Without the Chicago native, now, merely getting out of the second round would be a major accomplishment for Tom Thibodeau’s group. The Bulls can defend with anybody — with or without Rose — and went 18-9 without him, but rely on his unstoppable brilliance to score enough points against other quality defensive squads.

Carlos Boozer will have to be dominant, Rip Hamilton will have to turn back the clock and replacement C.J. Watson will have to play a lot more like the guy who shot 44.1% in January than the one who slumped to 32.1% in April.

There’s no point wondering if this shortened season led to the injury, one which came when Rose planted after getting into the lane late in an easy Chicago win over Philadelphia.

Some have questioned why Thibodeau still had Rose in the game considering he had missed 27 of 66 regular season contests due to back spasms, a pulled groin and assorted foot ailments, but Rose would have had to play big minutes at some point in the playoffs and needed to be tested. He also was closing in on a triple double.

The bottom line is, the world of professional sports is a cruel one.

A year ago, Rose was the cream of the NBA’s crop and the Bulls were battling Miami with a trip to the Finals on the line. Now, the road to LeBron James’ first championship will be a lot less rocky and nobody knows what the future holds for Rose or the Bulls.

Hopefully he’ll be back not long into the 2012-13 campaign as good as ever, but serious knee injuries can be particularly devastating to athletic marvels like Rose.

Tracy McGrady was never the same and Kobe Bryant is much more ground-based than in year’s past despite not suffering as severe an injury.

Rose’s success was even more based on his ridiculous athletic gifts than those two. His game could look quite different when he returns.

Brutal.

In the meantime, the Bulls will soldier on, likely pounding Philadelphia into submission.

But even the most rugged car won’t get very far without its motor.

There are now only three realistic championship contenders.

Like Cubs fans, all Bulls supporters can do now is wait until next year.

DON’T COUNT OUT SPURS

They’re old, they got upset a year ago, they’re not athletic enough, Manu’s always hurt — there are a lot of reasons why some people write off the San Antonio Spurs.

Don’t listen to them.

While Tim Duncan is no longer one of the five best players in the world, he’s still one heck of a big man and in his place, Tony Parker has emerged as an MVP candidate.

The “washed up” group won 50 games to top the West and its .758 winning percentage was the second-best in franchise history.

Don’t forget the Spurs won the title the last time the NBA had a shortened season and that Gregg Popovich is believed by many to be the league’s premier head coach.

This group of Spurs still defends like a Popovich outfit (10th in the league in defensive rating – points allowed per 100 possessions) and now, the Spurs have morphed into an offensive juggernaut, leading the NBA in offensive rating.

Rookie Kawhi Leonard has been a perfect addition. Leonard is a more athletic version of Bruce Bowen, a lynchpin of San Antonio’s previous title wins.

Manu Ginobili remains the most lethal bench performer this side of James Harden and the team has admirable depth, including recent veteran additions Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw and sharpshooting youngster Patty Mills.

The Spurs had little trouble with first round opponent Utah in the series opener, cruising to a 106-91 win on Sunday.

Parker had 28 points and eight assists, while Duncan added 17 points and 11 rebounds against the rock-solid Utah front line.


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