The Chicago Bulls will enter tomorrow’s first round of the playoffs with the number one overall seed for the second time in as many years. In Round 1 of the quest for number 7, they will match up with a deep Philadelphia 76er team who may or may not have tanked their final game to ensure a series with Chicago rather than Miami. The Bulls may not admit it, but that sentiment will undoubtedly add fuel to their championship aspirations.
An unsettling disappointing end to last year’s run has not vanished from the minds of this tight knit Chicago Bulls team, who have made only slight adjustments to their 2010-2011 roster by adding championship experienced vet, Richard Rip Hamilton. It is that “unfinished business” that will be the driving force to potentially get over the hump this time around.
Derrick Rose, in true MVP form, put last year’s exit on his shoulders, but vowed his Bulls “ready next time”. That “next time” is now, and with the troubling injuries to D.Rose throughout the season causing him to miss 27 games, it has been an ironic gift to the Chicago Bulls who have had several different players take over games and propel the team to where they are now, the number one seed in the NBA. Every player on this roster holds a belief in one another to play big no matter the opponent, and they’ve done it, time and time again.
Joakim Noah will be the first to tell you, “people don’t usually remember regular season games too much”, it’s the postseason when teams manifest what they’re really made of. With the playoffs literally a continuation of the truncated season, 12 PM (CT) tip-off tomorrow, Tom Thibodeau hopes his Bulls have built good habits to display in the playoffs and wants his team to “just be ready”. Joakim Noah validated his coach’s aspirations:
”Words can’t express how ready we are.
This is a really exciting time. I’m telling you, We’re ready.”
And with that, here are our keys to winning in Round 1 of the Chicago Bulls vs. Philadelphia 76ers:
1. Limit turnovers. Philadelphia is the number one team in the league in fewest turnovers per game. The Bulls have had some trouble with turnovers in April, but they must match Philly’s efficiency. With playoff basketball much slower than the regular season, it is crucial that the Bulls execute their offensive sets and get good ball movement. The Bulls are 5th in the league in assists per game, their biggest troubles come from missing the open shots. They’ve got to lock in on offense just as intensely as they do on defense and make the open look. On the other end, the Bulls have to play Chicago defense and force the Sixers to play a half-court game. Giving up points off turnovers to a young, athletic Sixers team could be deadly for Chicago. Keeping Philadelphia out of a transition game is KEY, and with the number one defense in the league, the Bulls should have no problem with this.
2. Derrick Rose. I think the Bulls have what it takes to win the series with or without Rose, however, his health will be the difference maker. With a healthy Rose the Bulls will most likely dominate this series, with a “I’m scared to attack” Rose, it will be one of those “grind it out” type series. We’ll get to see in Game 1 what the series holds and if D-Rose really is “feeling better than he has in a long time”, as Coach Thibs proclaimed after the regular season finale.
3. Rebounding. Thibodeau preaches defense and rebounding. The Bulls lead the league in both. Joakim Noah, who is “so ready” for the playoffs, is going to have to step up and make true to his statements. His energy and presence on the glass has to be HUGE. He has to set the tone from the tip and have an impact on every game as he is the front court LEADER. I have a feeling Joakim Noah is going to make a big name for himself in this year’s playoffs and he is going to be a star in this series. Boozer, Gibson and Asik will feed off of Noah’s energy and help dominate the boards as they have all year – but it starts with Jo.
THREE KEY MATCH-UPS TO WATCH FOR:
1. Joakim Noah/Taj Gibson vs. Thaddeus Young. Thaddeus Young provides a matchup problem for Carlos Boozer. Joakim Noah, the better defender, will likely cross-match to guard the more athletic Young if him and Boozer see him on the court together. However, with Young coming off of the Sixers deep high scoring bench, Taj Gibson is going to have to play his best basketball in this series. Young is going to be one of his toughest match-ups throughout the playoffs. Young is a potential difference for the Sixers, so it will be Taj Gibson, one of the best power forward defenders, to shine.
2. Derrick Rose vs. Andre Iguodala. Like Miami does with Lebron James, Philadelphia will likely put the bigger, stronger defender in Andre Iguodala on Derrick Rose in crunch time. He has a similar physique to James, and is one of the league’s best perimeter defenders. Lebron was able to cause havoc on Rose in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Collins will try to match Miami’s exploitation using Iguodala. Rose has said he has gained a better basketball IQ from last year’s ECF, so it will be a great look for Rose to get comfortable with (if he is to meet Lebron in the ECF again).
3. Benches. Both teams are deep, no question. In more games than I can think of, the Bench Mob has carried the Bulls to the win. I think Chicago’s second unit out-defends the first unit, which will be extremely crucial to counteract Philly’s high scoring bench players (T. Young, L. Williams). The Bench Mob will have a handful containing the Sixers bench who averages 40.8 ppg and 17 rpg compared to the Bulls 29.7 ppg and 15.9 rpg.
FINAL THOUGHTS: 2 of the 4 announced games have 12 PM (CT) start times. The Bulls are 1-6 this season in games played before 5 PM. They have to be in the right mindset and START these games strong. Philadelphia’s leading scorers come off the bench, so it’s imperative that the Bulls starters play big. It’s also worth noting that along with the number one overall defense in the league, the Bulls also have the number one fourth quarter defense. Philly comes in at number 26 in fourth quarter scoring. With that, the Bulls will have the fourth quarter advantage from the statistical point of view if the game does come down to final possessions. The Bulls are trained to get stops when they absolutely need them. With no superstar to go to down the stretch, Chicago will thrive on a well balanced defensive attack. In crunch time the advantageous Bulls have confidence in their MVP, need be, to make the big play – someone who Joakim Noah calls “the best closer in the league.”
Joakim Noah fittingly adds the final touches:
“It’s gonna be a tough series (vs PHIL), but I think we’re ready.
This is on us and we have to play our best basketball.”