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Bulls Fri Apr 19 2013

Playoff Preview: Bulls Vs Nets

Bulls_200.pngChicago vs. Brooklyn, the biggest playoff series ever between cities with the largest concentration of hipsters. Urban Outfitters in Wicker Park and Park Slope will have signs in their windows saying "closing early ironically/unironically to buy Champion era replica BJ Armstrong/Kerry Kittles jerseys, size 42, from a real thrift store." Regular season basketball mercifully over, it's now time to play the style of slowed-down hoops the Bulls have been rehearsing for all year long. While no one is counting on Derrick Rose to return, don't count out these Bulls for a playoff run sans a franchise star.

The individual match-ups will define this series. The Bulls face a team with a roster far less deep than their own. Nine of the Bulls players are averaging over 22 minutes a game and the Nets have only five. Remember when all of us thought this season was a wash because the organization let go of key personnel? Well Coach Tom Thibodeau could take you or me and make us at least serviceable in his defensive scheme. He's gotten the most out of Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed, which seemed a lot easier for him than it is for him to put on his oversized suits. With that said, playoff rotations tighten up, so when breaking down the match-ups, which six guys you got?

All-Stars Brook Lopez and a wobbly Joakim Noah will cancel each other out if Noah is able to shake the rust off, but mind you, it's a bigger "if" than once thought. Brooklyn Nets power-forward and Kimbo Slice doppelganger -- appearance-wise and in physicality -- Reggie Evans, is going to be rough with Carlos Boozer. Be prepared to dust off this trusty Boozer yell chart for this dog fight, but Boozer has played well against the Nets (21 points, 10 rebounds per game this season). Evans is a one-trick pony, he only rebounds. He can't score and only creates an average of .9 steals a game and .2 blocks, so Boozer will probably pull-up jumper his way over his counterpart.

Gerald Wallace would give Luol Deng a run for his money if it were the 2009-10 season, but obviously it's not. Expect Deng to take advantage of Wallace's lost step. Nets' shooting guard Joe Johnson will score more than the total effort of the two-guard spot the Bulls will trot out, but not by much. Deron Williams as of late is playing like the Deron Williams most Illinoisans rooted for in that Elite Eight game vs. Arizona during the 2005 NCAA tourney. He's the best player in the series, but it won't be enough.

The sixth men for the Bulls is Taj Gibson and Nate Robinson, while the Nets rely on CJ Watson to lead the second unit. Fortunately for Watson he doesn't have to decision-make and dish the ball to an awful freethrow-shooting Omer Asik with the game on the line, but he still won't best the Bulls' sixth options.

As far as team play, out rebounding the other squad has ostensibly been the biggest key to victory for the Bulls. The Bulls have averaged their lowest rebounding total against an opponent this year versus the Nets (35.5 per game). Conversely, the same could be said about the Nets, as their lowest rebound per game average versus an Eastern Conference foe is against the Bulls (36.6 per).

Three-pointers will tip the scale. Post All-Star break, the Bulls started to find their stroke from deep, as they've averaged two more three-pointers made (6.6) compared to before the break (4.8). Jimmy Butler has opened up his game the last few months. Not only does he get to the freethrow line more frequently per game than the other Bulls two-guards (2.8 per), but he's been shooting a lot more triples. Butler has attempted 56 threes in the last two months, connecting on 27 of them, in the four prior months, he attempted a total of 49 threes while only hitting 13. Kirk Hinrich has also found his rhythm. Hinrich in April has hit on 45% of threes attempted, which is something to get mildly excited about seeing as prior to April he was at a 36% clip for the year. This team can't create easy offense, and while it's scary to rely on the trey, they're going to have to bail themselves out, and the three will do it.

Series predictions from a teams' beat writer is inane in the membrane, but as trite as this may be, I'd be willing to bet a pair of Chicago-purchased skinny jeans to a Brooklyn pair of stretch denim that the Bulls win this series in six games. The Nets are a team of talented guys but in the kind of half-court, defensive slobber knocker that will be this series, they just don't have grit or will to advance over the Bulls. This of course is only possible if the Bulls stay healthy, which is the obstacle they've had to limp over all season long.

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