Monday, March 19, 2012

Bulls' Will to Win Supersedes All

Bill Simmons calls it The Secret. Others call it an ultimate competitive drive. Still others call it a superior will to win. Me? I refer to it as simply giving a sh- ... well you get the point. In the NBA, of course talent matters. Having the best players means you are far more likely to succeed than the average team. Having money matters to get those players. And having a good coach matters to instruct those players. But above all, more than anything else, a team isn't going to win unless they have the collective "give a crap" attitude. Look no further than the Bulls' stomping of Orlando tonight for the perfect example.

Orlando is in 3rd place. They have what all league observers point to as the most dominant big man in the league (more on him later). They sat at a very respectable 29-17 going into tonight's game. Given that Derrick Rose sat the game out again due to a sore groin, and again, like Miami last week, you expected it to be a dogfight. Not this time. The Bulls came out and blew the doors off the Magic, exposing Orlando as a complete farce of a team masquerading as a competitive team. Mark it down - Orlando isn't going anywhere this year, next year, or the year after that. They just don't have "it."

The Bulls have "it."
Nearly all good players get up for the best games. The key in an NBA season is to get up for them all. Howard and the Magic did neither tonight. The Magic looked listless, meandering around the court with no coherent direction whatsoever. The Bulls, meanwhile, played with an edge like they always do, putting together a great offensive effort and even more than that, dominating on defense. In fact, the Bulls even set a franchise record for points against in the regular season. To do that every night, like the Bulls nearly always do, takes a culture that has bought into "it." From Tom Thibodeau on down to the ball boy, everyone on the Bulls cares only about winning. You don't see D Rose (when he's healthy) or anyone on the Bulls pull what Howard did tonight. It's a big reason the Thibs is the quickest coach to 100 wins in NBA history.

Howard bounded up and down the court, really only hitting open shots that came off alley oops or getting the ball deep into position in the paint. He barked with some teammates, complained to the officials, and all told just looked disinterested in the game to begin with. How is this possible?! You're playing the top team in the conference!! He ended up with a typical Dwight Howard night - 18 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 fouls, and approximately 15-20 lazy, angry, or childish looks, glares, or grimaces towards seemingly everyone around him. I can't stand him. The way he conducted himself this season, flip flopping back and forth as to whether he was going to force a trade to the Nets (A LOSING TEAM!!!!), then finally settling on staying with the Magic, showed an utter disregard for his team to the point that their season is pointless.

Hey Dwight - call the waaambulance.
And really, have you ever seen a big man more irrelevant for longer stretches of time on the court than Howard? For every 45 point, 20 rebound game he rips off, he'll dump 10 of these 18 point, 12 rebound stinkers that reeks of a coddled superstar who wastes his talent. Let's face it - he's more physically gifted than any big man probably in the history of the NBA (can you think of another big man who's been in the Slam Dunk contest?), yet has a career scoring average of 18 ppg and has never averaged even 23 ppg in a season in his entire career. He's already in his eighth season. Dwight is destined to average 21 and 14 the rest of his life. When you look at what a player like Shaquille O'Neal did, who people compared Howard's skill set to, you see what a waste of talent he is. Go look at Shaq's first 8 seasons. The comparison isn't even close. So when I heard about the Bulls pursuing Howard, I wanted no part in it. I hope to god the Bulls never actually pull the trigger on Howard. His attitude, that more akin to the create-an-image-at-all-costs mentality of LeBron James, would be disastrous on the Bulls, a team with players, a coach, and a superstar that all get "it."

The NBA is a funny league. The "it" factor is almost never thought about when constructing a team, but without it the team is doomed. For instance, the Miami Heat have two of the best 5 players on the planet on their team. There's no question they should win a title, and they should have beat the Mavericks last year. But the Mavericks, with a team of veterans with the "it" factor, beat out the LeBronettes, a team who quite obviously does not. And that's the difference. The Heat can coast through the season, winning regular season games based on their talent alone. The Bulls can do the same, but put up a slightly better record because of the factor. And a team like the Lakers, who in Kobe Bryant have the ultimate competitor, can be in the running for a top seed in the West merely because Kobe's will to win drags his less talented team to wins by itself.

It's really a fascinating dynamic when you think about it. And when watching the game tonight, I realized that I would rather root for a team like the Bulls, who leave it all on the floor, value each and every game, have a coach who gets and preaches "it," and are led by a superstar who epitomizes giving a crap, than any other team out there. It's what gives the Bulls an edge or makes them competitive in nearly every game they play. It's why they can come out and dominate a Magic team without the reigning MVP. And really, it's why they have every shot in the world to begin the summer with a rally in Grant Park.