Will the Bulls defeat the Philadelphia 76ers?


Apr 27

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The Bulls are supposed to win this playoff series with the Philadelphia 76ers. This is not hockey. No. 8 seeds don’t win playoff series in the NBA. Though it did happen last season when the Memphis Grizzlies beat the injured San Antonio Spurs, and in the last lockout season when the New York Knicks beat the Miami Heat.

But it’s occurred just four times, and there’s really no reason to think it will between the Bulls and 76ers.

Yes, there’s been the pre-series talk from some 76ers’ players about preferring to play the Bulls. So what’s wrong with that? Derrick Rose has missed almost half the season with five different injuries and the Heat blew the 76ers out of the playoffs last season 4-1 and swept them 3-0 this season. The 76ers are 3-3 against the Bulls the last two years. So what should they prefer?

This is about the Bulls, really, because the 76ers should be playing with how the cliché goes “house money.” After a sharp 20-9 start with a home oriented schedule, the 76ers staggered into the playoffs and eased out the Bucks for the final spot.

There was talk of issues with coach Doug Collins, though more so considerable changes ahead with a roster that has maxed out as a .500 type team. The 76ers now are coming off five consecutive road games and came directly to Chicago to open the series from their final game in Detroit. Overall, the 76ers have played nine of their last 11 games on the road and been home in Philadelphia just four of the last 21 days. They should be ready for the playoffs.

So there’s no excuses for the Bulls, not that coach Tom Thibodeau would accept any, which has been one big reason for the Bulls’ success as the best regular season team the last two years.

The Bulls, though, haven’t been particularly sharp with afternoon games this season, losing six of eight in 4 p.m. or earlier starts with one of the wins that improbable last second victory on Christmas Day in Los Angeles.

What, Thibs worry?

“They tell you when you’re playing. You just have to be ready,” said Thibodeau. “Could be early, could be late, you just have to embrace it. Whether it’s 11 (a.m.) or midnight, whenever it is the challenge is to be ready.”

The way the Bulls have played some of those afternoon games, they would have been better at midnight so perhaps no one would have had to watch.

Here’s a look at how they went by local time:

Dec. 25 at 2 p.m. in Los Angeles: Bulls win 88-87.

Jan. 16 at noon in Memphis: Bulls lose 102-86.

Jan. 29. at 3:30 p.m. in Miami: Bulls lose 97-93

Feb. 12 at 3:30 p.m. in Boston: Bulls lose 95-91.

Feb. 18 at 3 p.m. at United Center: Bulls lose to Nets 97-85.

Feb. 20 at 3 p.m. at United Center: Bulls beat Hawks 90-79.

April 1 at noon in Oklahoma City: Bulls lose 92-78.

April 8 at 1 p.m. in New York: Bulls lose 100-99 in overtime.

The Bulls also were the tipoff game in last season’s NBA playoffs at noon Saturday and had to come from 10 behind in the last few minutes to defeat the Indiana Pacers. The Bulls apparently are not must see TV for the NBA’s TV networks.

But it’s not if the Bulls haven’t had a lot of notice and practice about this trend.

Still, this series shouldn’t be about wakeup calls and who was doing what last night. The regular season games, the first of which was a 76ers blowout win, don’t mean much given how many players were injured for the Bulls and some coming off back to backs. Both teams are relatively healthy now with the Bulls loudest whispered question the situation with Rose, who didn’t address reporters after a short Bulls practice Friday.

“When you look at his play, he has played just as well,” Thibodeau told reporters. “Last year, he didn’t have the injuries. That’s the big difference. He’s still scoring. Last year, he had to do a lot more scoring for us because of the injuries. This year he did more playmaking. It was hard for him to get into any type of rhythm. Anytime he put a few games together, he took on another injury. He’s feeling good now so hopefully that’s a good sign. He’s doing fine. He’s a mentally tough guy. Whatever comes his way, he handles. He’s looking forward to this challenge. Physically, he’s feeling a lot better. Hopefully he’ll be attacking. I like the progress that he has made. In the past, he has always shown he comes back very quickly. We’re hopeful that will be the case this time. too.”

Although the 76ers have stumbled down the stretch and have been experimenting with lineups for weeks, Evan Turner and Jodie Meeks at shooting guard and picking a center to start out of a hat, they have been a tough team that can claw it’s way to a win and hang in those grind it out games.

In one game this season between the team, the Bulls interior defense was exceptional and lured point guard Jrue Holiday into a battle against the Bulls guard with Rose out. Holiday had 30, but his play negated the 76ers offensive strength, which is their versatility and ability to get points from so many places.

Sixth man Lou Williams was their leading scorer at just 14.9 per game with seven players averaging more than nine points per game. Meeks was eighth at 8.4. Meeks, their designated perimeter shooter, is back in the starting lineup, though their reserves dominate the minutes with Williams and Thaddeus Young, the latter a perennial matchup problem for the Bulls.

That’s where the 76ers are dangerous because Collins is so good at taking advantage of matchups and adjusting to them quickly during a game. He’s as good as there is in the NBA in mid game adjustments.

“Doug is great,” said Richard Hamilton, who played for Collins in Washington with Michael Jordan. “He always was a guy who really knew the game, a student of game. He’d draw up a play in a heatbeat in a timeout and get you a score. He’s a stern coach and you really have to pay attention to what he wants, but I know he’ll have those guys ready.”

The 76ers also are despite their lack of front court size a very good defensive team. They were third behind only the Celtics and Bulls in defensive field goal percentage. Despite the lack of a high level front court player, they were seventh in rebounding and fifth overall in the important point differential category. It suggests they’ll play a tough game.

Their defense excels with their athletic ability, which exceeds the Bulls on the perimeter, and they are an active hands team. Instead of running to close with hands up on defense, they often have their hands down for steals and are excellent stripping the ball if you bring it down or don’t secure it. They were tied for 11th in steals (the Bulls were 24th) and are best in the league in taking care of the ball, one of Thibodeau’s tenets for successful basketball, at best in the league in fewest turnovers.

So they play smart and aggressive.

The Bulls have had problems with the 76ers when Philadelphia goes small with Young at power forward as Luol Deng, the Bulls best individual defender, generally has to stay with Andre Iguodala. Iguodala is the 76ers best defender, and gives Deng difficulties with the Bulls on offense. Young will force Carlos Boozer out of the game and then leave Taj Gibson to try to deal with Young’s many unorthodox moves.

The 76ers can turn it into an advantage with having numerous players on the floor at the same time who can make plays as Evan Turner, Iguodala and Young all can play like point forwards. Thus, the 76ers are adept at moving the ball and, like the Bulls, rank in the top 10 in three point shooting. The 76ers also do a lot of back cutting, cutting and movement with fairly basic NBA plays. Though Collins is innovative and will incorporate subtle changes on the fly.

They’ll also have different players go into the post to give that different looks with a nice variety of changes.

So the priority for the Bulls will be to take advantage of their size with Joakim Noah, Boozer, Gibson and Omer Asik and keep the 76ers out of transition. In that first game the 76ers won, they constantly ran out off misses and turnovers as their smallish big men, Elton Brand and Lavoy Allen, stepped outside for jump shots.

Thibodeau said he’d probably stick with the same rotation he’s used in the regular season, which means about 10 players. But a question for the 76ers may be whether they come in tired or whether they come in loose with nothing to lose. The Bulls are favored, but so were the Nuggets in 1994 over the 63-win Supersonics, the Warriors in 2007 over the 67-win Mavericks, the Grizzlies last year over the 61-win Spurs and the lockout season Knicks over the Heat.

Here’s a look at the expected matchups:

Bulls (50-16) vs Philadelphia 76ers (35-31)

Series: Bulls 2-1

Point guard: Derrick Rose vs Jrue Holiday. Holiday averaged 21 against the Bulls this season thanks to that 30-point outburst. He’s a big point guard, but thin and a decent three point shooter at 38 percent. He’s just one of several 76ers making plays. The key for the Bulls for the playoffs is Rose. He’s come back tentatively from his injuries, showing flashes and playing conservatively. Will that burst be there when he and the team need it?

Edge: Bulls

Shooting guard: Richard Hamilton vs Jodie Meeks. Hamilton missed more than half the season, but has come back solidly in being worked back in and his veteran experience and poise under pressure will be back. Meeks is more a hit and miss player who’ll be yanked if he doesn’t have it going. The 76ers are very dangerous when he’s on.

Edge: Bulls

Small forward: Luol Deng vs Andre Iguodala. Both became All-Stars this season for the first time and both for their versatility. Deng is set back some with the left wrist injury he’s played through. They both came out in the same draft and the Bulls were deciding between the two and took Deng instead of the Springfield native. Iguodala seems to delight in playing Deng and plays him as well as anyone.

Edge: 76ers

Power forward: Carlos Boozer vs Elton Brand. It’s Duke guys and the former Bulls against the current one. Brand has lots of ups and downs given his legs aren’t always there. But his jumper is more reliable and he’s still a worker. Boozer has been coming n, especially with his shot, and is in his best overall stretch since he’s been with the Bulls.

Edge: Bulls

Center: Joakim Noah vs Lavoy Allen. Maybe. The 76ers have started three different centers against the Bulls this season, Tony Battie, Allen and Spencer Hawes. And in part of the season they were starting Nikola Vucevic. So, right, Collins isn’t sure what to do. But Vucevic slumped late in the season and Collins likes Hawes coming off the bench. Noah has been playing well of late and should be able to run any of the 76ers centers.

Edge: Bulls

Bench: The Bulls Bench Mob is one of its greatest assets, but the 76ers have two of their top three players coming off the bench, a rarity in the NBA. And now Hawes, who was injured half the season. C.J. Watson was the leading scorer for the Bulls twice this season against the 76ers, and if the Bulls can control the 76ers bench Philadelphia will have great trouble scoring.

Edge: 76ers

Coach: Tom Thibodeau vs Doug Collins. Two of the best in the game now as Collins may be the premier turnaround expert with the 76ers going from 25 wins to the playoffs twice with Collins and their most successful season in nine years. But Thibodeau has the soul of his team like few coaches in the NBA and the Bulls have been playing at the more consistently high level.

Edge: Bulls

Pick: Bulls in 5.

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