CHICAGO — With the return of Derrick Rose and the addition of Pau Gasol, the Chicago Bulls came into the season with soaring expectations.
Now, it’s time to deliver.
The Bulls open the NBA playoffs today at home against the Milwaukee Bucks eyeing a deep run after battling injuries during the regular season.
They expect to have all their starters available, a rarity to this point, and they still see themselves as a force in the Eastern Conference after earning the third seed with a 50-32 record.
“I certainly feel a lot more confident than I did last year at this time,” Mike Dunleavy Jr. said.
There are a number of reasons why he would feel that way.
Start with Rose making his first playoff appearance since the 2012 postseason opener. Throw in the addition of Gasol, Jimmy Butler’s ascent to becoming an All-Star, the depth and the fact that all five starters are expected to play.
The Bulls are 17-5 when they go with their regular lineup of Rose, Butler, Dunleavy, Gasol and Joakim Noah.
Now, they’re going against a rebuilt team that made a big jump from winning a league-low 15 games last year to finishing 41-41 in its first season under Coach Jason Kidd. The sixth-seeded Bucks did that despite losing Jabari Parker, the No. 2 draft pick and a Chicago native keenly interested in this series, to a season-ending knee injury.
“We’ve got nothing to lose, really,” said Bucks point guard Michael Carter-Williams, acquired in February. “Everyone’s expecting them to win. We’ve just got to go in there being the underdogs and just fight.”