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Pippen hopes Bulls can steal a win in Brooklyn
by Adam Fluck
Posted on Apr 18
It wasn’t often that Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Bulls found themselves entering a playoff series as the lower seed. But when it did happen, including twice in the NBA Finals, winning at least one of the first two road games to take control of home court advantage was of vital importance.
So it comes as no surprise that Pippen views that as a key for the fifth-seeded Bulls when their postseason gets underway Saturday in Brooklyn against the fourth-seeded Nets.
“Your mindset has got to be one where you’re determined to win that first game,” Pippen said on Thursday. “As a lower seed away from home, the pressure isn’t on you. But, really, the Bulls have two games to try and get at least one win. Obviously, if we get the first one, the number goes to two.”
Chicago started their NBA Finals series on the opponent’s turf in 1993 against Phoenix and 1998 in Utah. Both times, the Bulls were able to win at least one game – they captured two victories over Charles Barkley’s Suns in 1993, though Phoenix returned the favor winning two of three games at the Chicago Stadium – to wrestle home court away en route to a series victory.
Whether or not this season’s Bulls can also find success away from the United Center in the postseason may largely depend on the team’s health.
“We’re as good as our health will allow us to be,” said Pippen. “If we can get healthy and stay healthy, the sky is the limit for this team.”
Not including Derrick Rose’s absence, Chicago players missed a total of 107 games due to injury this season. Most recently, Joakim Noah (right foot) missed 15 games, while Taj Gibson (left knee) was sidelined for 17 games this season. Both have worked their way back into the lineup, though they played limited minutes in the season’s final two games.
“The Bulls have created an identity through their style of play and that’s as a defensive team,” said Pippen. “When they’re healthy and they’re able to get after their opponents, they’ve proven to be very dangerous. We’ve seen them stop two long winning streaks this season and that’s a tribute to how dedicated they are to defending the basketball and forcing teams to do things that are out of character.”
Pippen calls Gibson, who averaged 8.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in 22.4 minutes per game this season, Chicago’s X-factor for the series.
“He’s someone who can come off the bench and give you a double-double in addition to what the starters are providing,” Pippen said of Gibson. “He’s also the anchor on the defensive end when he’s on the floor. His energy and enthusiasm is a big part of the second unit.
“Taj can bring that spark through his style of play and it gets the crowd excited,” Pippen added. “Going into the playoffs, a healthy Taj Gibson is something the Bulls have to have.”
The Bulls won three out of four meetings against the Nets during the regular season, which Pippen said will give them a mental edge going in the series. Aside from that, however, what happened prior to this point won’t have much meaning once Game 1 at the Barclays Center has commenced.
“The playoffs are a different animal all together,” said Pippen. “The Bulls are trying to get back to that high level of basketball they played early on in the season. Even though they struggled at times the last six to eight weeks, you can throw all that out the window now. It’s a new day and a new season.”
One matchup Pippen said he’ll keep a close eye on is at center, where Noah will face off against Brook Lopez. Both big men were first-time NBA All-Stars this season and which player has the advantage could depend on whether Noah is able to play with his trademark high energy, activity and mobility.
“Joakim needs all those things working for him in order to matchup with Brook Lopez, given his size and ability to shoot the basketball,” said Pippen. “Noah’s ability to rebound, defend the basket and make hustle plays will help balance those things out. They’re two of the best centers in the East.”
Chicago finished the season 33-18 against the Eastern Conference this season, including a 16-10 mark on the road. The Bulls won once in Brooklyn this season, and Pippen is convinced they can do it again in their first round series.
“But this Nets team has shown they can win on the road as well,” he said. “It’s going to be a dogfight and each team will make their adjustments as the series goes on. It may very well come down to who can make them the most efficiently and capitalize from them. It’s going to be a long series. But I do like Chicago’s chances and think we can win it.”