Series Preview: Bulls-Hawks
For these two, it’s on to the next one.
by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford
The last time the Chicago Bulls advanced to the second round of the NBA Playoffs was in 2007 when they defeated the then-defending champion Miami Heat. Since then they’ve missed the Playoffs altogether once and been eliminated in the first round twice. It’s amazing what four years, a COY and an MVP can do for the fortunes of a team.
On the other side, the Atlanta Hawks have advanced to the second round in each of the past two seasons, but have been unceremoniously eliminated each time. In ’09 Atlanta was swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last year they were swept again, this time by Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. Hawks fans have been longing for their team to make a trip to the conference finals, but facing off against a squad like Chicago will make that a difficult task.
The Bulls won the head-to-head matchup this season two games to one with the first game being a close Atlanta victory (who came back from a 19-point deficit) and the next two being Bulls blowouts. The Hawks have a lot of talent, but with Kirk Hinrich being sidelined in this series with a significant strain to his right hamstring, that’s one less weapon Atlanta has—and one they’ll sorely miss—to be able to compete with the Bulls in this series.
Point Guard: Derrick Rose vs Jeff Teague
The Breakdown: Although the Bulls struggled as a team against the Indiana Pacers in the first round, Derrick Rose imposed his will on Darren Collison. He should be able to do the same against Jeff Teague who will run the Atlanta show with Hinrich out. This will be Teague’s first opportunity to have a significant role on the biggest of stages and although he should play well, he’ll be sorely overmatched in this series.
Shooting Guard: Keith Bogans vs Joe Johnson
The Breakdown: There are three givens in this matchup. One, you know that Bogans is going to bring his defensive intensity and the ability to make shots here and there. Two, you have no idea which Joe Johnson is going to show up on a nightly basis. It’s this second given that is sure to leave Hawks fans frustrated, much like they’ve been with the play of Johnson all season long. Atlanta rewarded “Iso-Joe” with a six year deal worth $119 million dollars last summer. He then went out and posted his worst statistical season in 5 years. He’ll still outplay Bogans, the third given, but $119 million clearly doesn’t buy what it used to.
Small Forward: Luol Deng vs Josh Smith
The Breakdown: Luol Deng is having what could be considered a breakout kind of season. He’s played well on both sides of the ball and he’s been just as integral in the Bulls success this season as Derrick Rose. Like the aforementioned Johnson, Smith has had an okay season, but not one that should inspire confidence. He’s posted the best statistical 3-point shooting season in his career, but if you’re Chicago, that’s pretty much what you want him to do anyway. Both players should be solid, but I don’t expect one to outplay the other.
Power Forward: Carlos Boozer vs Al Horford
The Breakdown: Carlos Boozer played far below expectations in the series against the Pacers. Teams with length have always been his Achilles heel, but he’ll have just as big of a problem trying to guard Al Horford in this series. Horford had been pedestrian against the Bulls in the regular season, but with Boozer still trying to fight has way back from turf toe, it should be a matchup that Big Al should be able to take advantage of.
Center: Joakim Noah vs Jason Collins
The Breakdown: Noah played poorly in the Indiana series until Game 5 when his grandfather came to watch him play. That seemed to wake him up and give him his energy back, and he finally looked like the Joakim Noah that Bulls fans love and opponents (like Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger) love to hate. As for Jason Collins, what is it that he does again?
Bench: Bulls vs Hawks
Jamal Crawford is the only legitimate offensive threat that the Hawks have coming off their bench. That’s bad. What’s worse is that he can either shoot you to victory, or right out of the game. The rest of Atlanta’s bench is filled with scrubs and journeymen. Chicago’s “Bench Mob” is filled with capable low-post and perimeter players on both sides of the ball. This one is no contest.
Series Prediction: The Indiana Pacers were a tough matchup for Chicago, but may have been the best kind of preparation for facing another team that plays outside-in like the Hawks. Atlanta, who seemed extra motivated to get some payback on Orlando in the Playoffs this year, did a very good job of exposing the Magic as pretenders instead of contenders, but doing the same thing against the Bulls will be quite a different story. Chicago’s intensity on defense and their ability to get consistent scoring from players besides Derrick Rose will be a huge frustration for Atlanta in this series. The Hawks will most likely win a couple of games, but expect Atlanta to once again bow out in the second round.
Bulls win 4-2.