|« LaHair, Cubs Show Life vs. Cardinals||Bears Get Defensive in First Round »|
Bulls Fri Apr 27 2012
Sixers guard and Chicago native Evan Turner was asked this week what it would mean to face the Bulls in the first round. He responded, "It means we're dodging the tougher team. That's what I think. I think we'll be able to compete well against Chicago, and have an opportunity to win the series."
Two things happened at that moment. First, NBA scribes did a collective fist pump by being handed two guaranteed stories: one for the original quote with reactions from Bulls players, and a second story on Turner's eventual clarification. Secondly, scores of fans blew the comments completely out of proportion and sought vengeance against a "cocky player."
Let's get one thing straight here. Evan Turner isn't wrong.
By playing in Chicago in the first round (beginning on Saturday at 12pm), the Sixers dodge the star-studded Miami Heat, a team that throttled them by a combined 53 points in their four meetings during the regular season. Can you blame Turner for saying they'd rather face the Bulls? I sure can't.
The feeling for Chicago is mutual. By dodging the New York Knicks, the Bulls avoid a team that finished the season on an 18-6 run with a hot Carmelo Anthony and a newly healthy Amare Stoudemire. Instead, the Bulls get a team that's limping into the playoffs with a 15-17 record after the All Star break.
Keys to the Series:
Injuries: The biggest question for the Bulls going into the playoffs is the health of Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, and Rip Hamilton.
Rose is light on reps late in the season, and will need a few games to get going in the playoffs. He won't be 100% until he takes a couple of months off, but that won't be happening until sometime in the summer of 2013.
Deng got a few breaks late in the season, but is in need of surgery on his injured wrist before he'll be back in perfect condition. He was already a questionable dribbler before the injury, and now he'll barely put the ball on the floor with his left hand.
Amazingly, Rip Hamilton is the most ready of the three. During the final 11 games, he averaged 12 points, three assists, and two rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field and logging 24 minutes per game. Even though he's played just 27 games this season, he's healthy and playing well at the perfect time.
Rebounding: The Bulls have out-rebounded their opponents 49 times this season, and are 42-7 in those games. The Sixers are seventh in the NBA in rebounding, and also lead the league in fewest turnover by more than two per game. When they get the ball, they're very good at getting up shots.
Against athletic players like Turner, Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala, and Thaddeus Young, the Bulls will need to rebound well as a team to be successful, and not simply rely on Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson to inhale all the misses. In case you didn't do the math, they're 8-9 when being out-rebounded this season, and two of those games have been against Philly (1-1).
Offensive Efficiency: In terms of points allowed, Chicago and Philadelphia finished one/two respectively during the lockout shortened season. Don't be surprised if the Bulls try to lean on Hamilton and Boozer early on in games to see if either of them is hot and can potentially take some of the scoring pressure off of a recovering Rose.
As mentioned before, Rose will need time to knock off the rust not only scoring the basketball, but dishing it as well. Not counting the half-hearted games the Bulls played in the final week, Rose averaged six turnovers a night in the three games he played in mid-April.
Interior Defense: We already know both teams are elite defensively, but Philly is the third best shooting team at the rim this season. However, they're dead last in the NBA in shots at the rim per game. Once you get them outside of three feet, they're nearly league average at every other distance.
The Bulls have stretches in games where they allow a string of easy baskets, and Thibs is quick to call timeouts to straighten his team out. Sixers coach Doug Collins counters that by being one of the best in the NBA at drawing up inbounds plays during timeouts. Let the chess match begin.
The 2012 playoffs are a second chance for the Bulls to prove that having the best record in the NBA over the past two seasons wasn't a fluke. It's a chance at eventual redemption, and a hopeful date with the defending Eastern Conference champions a month from now. But Thibodeau will be quick to remind us to take every game one at a time.
Evan Turner wants to play the Bulls? Kyle Korver didn't mince words in response:
"All right; come play us."