I know Game 1 happened last night, and I now look like an idiot for writing this preview. However, if you want proof that I did write this prior to Game 1, click here. AND... since I don't really have time this week to get another preview up, I'm going to say Lakers in 7 (I know the Mavs won Game 1, but I just don't think they have enough of a supporting cast to get by the Lakers).
Well these two teams' respective first round series could not have gone much differently.
Bulls fans—as expected—watched Derrick Rose lead a very balanced attack (five scorers averaged double figures) in a ho-hum five game series against the Pacers. They probably would have swept had Rose not tweaked his ankle in Game 3, leading to a Game 4 loss in one of the worst games of his career (6-22 FG, 1-9 3FG).
Meanwhile, the Hawks shocked the world by destroying the Orlando Magic in six games. No one gave the Hawks a prayer in that series, including myself. But similar to the Bulls, they utilized a balanced attack with five players in double figures.
My problem with the Hawks is that they don't have THAT guy. The one that they can count on to cut the throat out of the other team (and I'm not accepting that Jamal Crawford's ugly as hell bank counts as a cutthroat player).
These are two very balanced teams, so this should be a fun series...right? Not really. Not when one balanced team is a WHOLE lot better than the other.
SERIES STUD: Derrick Rose. DRose had a spectacular Game 1 and 2, earning his (probable) MVP status, and he averaged 37.5 points, 7 rebounds and 6.5 assists. Rose's penetration skills were hindered in Games 3-5 against the Pacers after tweaking his ankle early in Game 3. In those games, Rose averaged 21 points, 3 rebounds and 6 assists. Pedestrian numbers by his standards.
In Games 4 and 5 he had 11 FT attempts combined, less than any other game in the series by itself. He obviously was not taking the rock to the hole like his usual self, which is a bad thing considering he shot 21 percent from behind the arc in the first round. With six days off between the last game and Game 1 against the Hawks, I fully expect Rose to be healthy.
Combine that with the fact that there is no one—seriously, no one—to guard him on the Hawks, Rose will be running up and down the court like he's the lead bull at Pamplona this series.
DA BULLS: In a way, Rose's injury may have been the best thing to happen to a Bulls team that is inexperienced with winning in the playoffs. The Pacers didn't roll over in any game except for the finale; the first four games were decided by six points or less. The Bulls had to be focused, and were challenged by a tough Indianapolis ballclub.
Other players were forced to step up when it mattered, and this team showed what it really is—a team. That team is going to give the Hawks fits.
The mid 90's Bulls, while they had MJ, had a multitude of guys who could show up on any given night. Guys like John Paxson, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, and Bill Wennington (kidding!) come to mind.
Against the Pacers, Kyle Korver knocked down threes, Taj Gibson provided a spark off the bench when Carlos Boozer proved ineffective (seriously Boozer, grow a pair), and Joakim Noah/Kurt Thomas provided an elbow throwing, trash talking presence down low that frustrated the Pacers. In particular, I was really impressed by the king of the mid-range jumper, Luol Deng. In the Bulls' Game 3 and 5 wins, he stepped up to contribute 21 points in both.
With the particular skill sets of each individual player meshing together, it's going to create matchup problems for the Hawks all over the place. Throw in Coach Tom Thibodeau's trademark lockdown defense, and this team is going to be hard to stop moving forward.
Expect more of this balanced attack in this series, but make no mistake—Derrick Rose is the star of the show. And with no one there to guard him, it should be a quick series for Da Bulls.
THE HAWKS: At 100 percent health, the Hawks' chances in this series were on thin ice to begin with. But the news of Kirk Hinrich being out for the entire series due to a hamstring injury suffered in Game 6 of the first round means the Hawks are now struggling to keep their heads above water.
Hinrich brought a stabilizing force and a feisty intensity to this team that desperately needed a leader (yes, I'm looking at you, "superstar" Joe Johnson) to spark it as it churned along toward the postseason.
Everything's going against the Hawks in this Series. In Round 1, they had to play a certain style of game—mainly a large lineup—in order to contain Dwight Howard. After Howard's 46 point, 19 rebound effort in Game 1, Al Horford and Jason Collins did what they could.
But now they're having to defend a completely different team, led by a point guard, which entails a completely different game plan and a completely different style of play. Transitioning like that is not an easy feat to accomplish, as players that you didn't rely on in Round 1 (Marvin Williams, Jeff Teague) are going to be asked to step right in.
Basically, the Bulls present a ton of matchup problems for the Hawks, and I see this team sinking fast in Round 2.
PREDICTION: I'm a little weary of saying that the Hawks don't have a prayer here, as I made the same prediction about their series against the Magic. But my friends, these Chicago Bulls are not the Orlando Magic. Comparing those two teams is like comparing a Toyota Corolla to a Mercedes Benz.
And if the Bulls are a Benz, in this series the Hawks are the pavement. Bulls roll in 5.