Despite multiple attempts to find an expert/human/robot/cowbell who has picked the Sixers to win the series having failed completely, we have decided to press on and preview the series anyway. The Bulls found themselves in the national spotlight quite a bit this season, so you've likely seen your share of Chicago basketball in addition to that slow motion commercial where words pop up on the screen really fast and if you blink, you think the NBA has poor grammar in regards to the Bulls' defense. But nobody's watched more Bullsketball than my pal Matt from Blog a Bull.
So I asked him some questions. See my answers to his questions over there.
LB - If the Heat are almost always acknowledged as the better team, why does Chicago have the better record?
Um...maybe 'becuz your all BULLZ HAT0RZ'? And I guess you could count me among them going into the season (and through February), as I figured that the Heat were going to find another level after their first full season together. That hasn't happened as they still have a litany of issues, so while I sill would pick them over the Bulls in a series, it's pretty close. The Bulls slight edge in record goes to them being more suited for a regular season. They don't take games off, and even guys are forced out due to injury there's a lot of depth to help stay competitive. Whereas if anyone is out for Miami it's usually a huge dropoff to the next person taking those minutes.
LB - Who poses the more difficult matchup for the Sixers: Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, or wild card Taj Gibson?
I think Noah will have a big series, possessing a height/length/athleticism combination that nobody on the Sixers really has (thankfully the Bulls selected him one ahead of Spencer Hawes in the '07 draft). The Bulls often make up for poor shooting by dominating the offensive glass, and Noah will be a big part of that. I think Taj will be key as well if Thaddeus Young starts giving the other Bulls bigs issues: Taj isn't as athletic as Thad, but he's a very sound defender can move his feet against pretty much everyone. Similarly, if Boozer can use his strength to get post-up opportunities, it may preclude Philly from going small in the first place.
LB - The Sixers give up the fewest shot attempts at the rim in the NBA despite not having a major shot-blocking threat. Will the Bulls settle for jumpers or continue to attack?
That's a huge obstacle for Derrick Rose to prove that he's healthy; While he's looked alright at points in his sporadic return from various lower-body injuries, that superstar skill of getting to the rim (against any defense) hasn't shown itself yet. And besides him, the Bulls other offensive weapons (Hamilton, Boozer, Deng since his wrist injury) are for more inclined to jump-shoot. It's a definite plus for the Sixers if they can keep the Bulls shooting from that mid-range area, though they're excellent passers and can patiently get a cutter to the rim if the defense rests at all.
LB - Is there still one piece missing from the championship puzzle or is this the best team the Bulls can and will assemble?
When the Bulls signed Rip Hamilton, that pretty much set the roster in stone for this season. There weren't many better free agent options, and the few who seemed so at the time turned out as disappointing as he did. And while he's shown flashes, Rip wasn't going to be a perfect addition and likely won't be at his current age/health. The Bulls still have nobody else in a crunch-time lineup who can reliably handle the ball and generate offense outside of Derrick Rose, so that'll always be a flaw. But the way this season has gone, every team has flaws and the Bulls are right up there with the least of them. Rip's a definite upgrade over Keith Bogans, and the Bulls have seen their frontcourt improve with another season playing together, so maybe there's enough progress in other ways to make up for not completely filling that SG hole.
As far as future seasons, the Bulls face a lot of tough questions if they don't make it to the Finals this season, from maybe needing to upgrade a #2 option, to a looming luxury tax bill if they keep everyone intact.
LB - Can we just have a moment of silence for former Bull/76er Andres Nocioni?
Indeed, and lets re-live this great moment, I can't believe it's been 7 years.
I'm very glad the Bulls didn't get sentimental and bring him back as bench-fodder. Save that for Kirk Hinrich in the offseason, I guess.
LB - If everything goes wrong, do you still think the Bulls come away with this series?
I think even if Derrick Rose didn't play, the Bulls would win in 7. The frontcourt advantage is too much and I just see there being too many stretches in too many games where the Sixers will be completely unable to score. They have chances to steal a couple if they can force turnovers (something they've done against Chicago quite well) and use their obvious athleticism advantage, but if the possessions are conventional the Bulls defense is too good.
The best part about Matt is how grounded he is in his opinion of his own team (he's also devastatingly handsome). The same can be said for Chris Clark of the Lakers blog SS&R. I hope to one day have a good team I can be grounded and handsome about.
Do we agree with him? I hadn't considered the D-Rose injury in terms of preventing attacks to the basket. Keep them shooting jump shots and hope they go cold seems like the best plan of attack (?). There's no real weak spot out there, but Richard Hamilton suddenly worries me because he'll absolutely wreck Jodie Meeks if Collins leaves him in there for too long. Would like to see more Turner if only for the defensive elements.
Here's a link to their preview. Gametime is around the corner.