Bulls/Pacers Series Preview
by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford
After much talking, heated arguments and spirited debates, the part of the NBA season that matters the most is finally here: the NBA Playoffs!
If you’re like me and have had numerous and tiring discussions about which team was going to do what in the regular season, or which player was the most deserving of a certain post-season award, you’re probably at or well past the point of regular-season burnout and the Playoffs for you, as it is for me, the equivalent of a runner getting his second wind in a marathon. It feels good.
Forty games in 40 nights. Win or go home. That’s all that matters now. This is the time of year that separates the men from the boys, the haves from the have nots, the winners from the losers. The goal is to be the last team standing in June and the first steps begin now.
The Bulls have experienced a remarkable turnaround this season which caused everyone from the talking heads on TV, to the sports writers and bloggers, to the die-hard fans and the bandwagon riders discuss this team incessantly. So by now, you either love Chicago and want to see this team go all the way, or you hate them and want to see them get knocked out early. That’s pretty much what it is.
After barely making it into the postseason the last two years, the Chicago Bulls organization was determined to make itself a force once again in the NBA. They went out and added eight new players and a head coach in Tom Thibodeau who was a part of two NBA Finals teams and the winner of an NBA Championship with the Boston Celtics. “Thibs,” a lifetime assistant who finally got his chance to run his own team, didn’t disappoint as his defense-first philosophy translated into 21 more victories in the win column for the Bulls compared to the records of the previous two seasons, subsequently making Chicago the talk of the League.
Oh yeah, that Derrick Rose kid has been pretty good this year too.
With Chris Bosh and LeBron James deciding to fly south for the winter, their relocation opened up an opportunity for teams who ordinarily wouldn’t have had a shot at the postseason, a chance to get in. The Pacers happened to be fortunate enough to end the year as the best of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference and thus made the Playoffs with less than 40 victories in the win column, something that doesn’t happen very often in the NBA.
But considering that Head Coach Jim O’Brien was – ironically enough – fired the very next day after these same Chicago Bulls blew these same Indiana Pacers out by 21 points in the United Center back in January, it seemed to be the jolt this team needed as Assistant Coach Frank Vogel had the Pacers playing inspired basketball as they were able to overcome a six-game losing streak in March and added huge victories to their resume including back-to-back wins over the Knicks, an OT victory over the Bulls, a defeat of the Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks, all Playoff teams.
But that’s about as ‘feel good’ as it’ll get for the Pacers. They aren’t going to have much of a chance at all to defeat the Bulls in seven games and advance to the second round.
The Breakdown: When the Pacers acquired Collison from the New Orleans Hornets, he was supposed to come in and make an immediate impact with his ability to push the tempo and score effectively when the situation called for it. Fans in Indianapolis are still waiting for that guy to show up. And having to go up against Derrick Rose — I mean, the League MVP — in this series, what else is there to say? Collison is food.
Advantage: As Stacey King would say, are you serious?! This won’t be a match-up; it’ll be a crime scene.
The Breakdown: Bogans and his offensive production may not be popular in Chicago, but on defense, he’s a problem. Anyone he matches up against is going to have to work, and work hard for whatever they get. George is an incredible athlete, but he’s a rookie, in the Playoffs for the first time, with less than 20 NBA starts under his belt. He’ll have flashes of brilliance here and there, but it won’t be much more than that.
Advantage: Bulls. I give Chicago the advantage simply on the strength of Bogans’ Playoff experience, his defense, and the fact that George is just wildly inconsistent.
The Breakdown: Yes, Granger is a former All-Star, but Deng is having an All-Defense kind of season this year. He’s been giving his counterparts fits on the defensive end all year and he’s picked his offensive game up to where teams have to account for him now. Granger has a tendency to turn strictly into a jump shooter when the defense gets to be too stiff and he can’t get to the basket. And unfortunately for him, Luol Deng is a master at challenging and contesting on every jump shot.
Advantage: Bulls. Granger has regressed to the point where he’ll still get his 18-23 points per game, but best believe he’ll have to take an equal number of shots to do it with Deng all over him on D. Plus Luol should pretty much be able to match Granger point-for-point in the series, albeit much more efficiently because of the way Chicago’s offense frees him up to make baskets from all over the floor.
The Breakdown: When ‘Psycho T’ is in the starting lineup, he makes himself a factor immediately. His first start this season he dropped 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Since becoming a regular starter in March, he had five-straight games of 20 or more points and once dropped 30 on Amar’e Stoudemire and had 29 and 12 on Carlos Boozer, both Pacers victories. But Boozer is a veteran, and you can never discount that. Especially when going up against a first timer who’s never experienced this type of atmosphere before.
Advantage: Bulls. Hansbrough has slowed down since becoming a regular starter and hasn’t had a 20-point game in over a month. It’s one thing to bring energy off the bench in spurts – catching an opponent off guard – and another to have to do it every night as a starter when teams actually game plan for you; a situation that only gets tougher in the Playoffs. Boozer comes equipped with a lot of Playoff experience and more than enough veteran savvy. Outplaying Hansbrough in this series shouldn’t be a problem, but it’ll be an interesting match-up nonetheless. Still, ‘Booz’ will show him how to do this, son.
The Breakdown: Noah has been beset by injuries all season which has seemed to limit his all-around production and the frenetic energy that he’s known for. Hibbert has been solid all year but against the Bulls, he struggles badly. His first three regular-season games against Chicago look like this: 6 points/3 rebounds, 2 points/7 rebounds, 2 points/5 rebounds. The first game, he was matched up with Joakim, but the next two he was matched up against a slower and much older Kurt Thomas. It won’t get any easier for him in the Playoffs.
Advantage: Bulls. Injuries aside, Noah can outplay Hibbert off sheer hustle and energy alone. Joakim hasn’t looked great in the regular season, but as we’ve seen the past two years, in the Playoffs he becomes an animal.
Bench: Bulls vs Pacers
The Breakdown: Quick, name one player off of Indiana’s bench. It’s tough, right? OK, now name one player off of Chicago’s bench. Much easier, I know. You could probably name three right off the bat without giving it a whole lot of thought.
Advantage: Bulls. The ‘Bench Mob’ (as they’ve been called this season) which includes guys like Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik and CJ Watson, have all played exceptional at various times during the season. They should very easily be able to outplay the Pacers’ bench of Josh McRoberts (who could legitimately be a problem), Mike Dunleavy, TJ Ford, Brandon Rush and Dahntay Jones.
Series Prediction: A team that has won 62 games in a season and finished with the best record in the NBA shouldn’t have any problem with a team that’s won only 37 games all year. Frank Vogel has done a wonderful job getting his team into the Playoffs, but this is where the ride comes to a sudden, screeching, and neck breaking stop. I think the Bulls can sweep the Pacers, but I also think Indiana has the ability to steal at least a game in this series. That said: Chicago wins 4-1.