Friday, April 19, 2013
Matchups: Nets vs. Bulls
By Mike Mazzeo
Who will win this first-round Eastern Conference playoff series: the Brooklyn Nets or the Chicago Bulls?
Let's take a look at the matchups to figure it out:
POINT GUARD: Deron Williams has been a different player since taking a week off to get healthy during the All-Star break. He closed out the 2012-13 season by averaging 22.9 points and 8.0 assists in the final 28 games and has regained his stature as one of the league's best point guards.
Former MVP Derrick Rose missed the entire regular season for Chicago after undergoing knee surgery. It is unknown if he'll return during the playoffs. Kirk Hinrich has performed more than admirably in Rose's place, but he certainly doesn't equal Williams' production.
SHOOTING GUARD: Joe Johnson made three game-winning shots during the regular season and proved to be a "Joe Clutch" in crunch time. But Johnson called his overall performance just "OK," in large part because he's had to deal with a few minor injuries. He vows to turn it up a notch in the playoffs.
Second-year pro Jimmy Butler has come out of nowhere to excel for the Bulls, averaging 13.7 points on 47.5 percent shooting in the final 17 games of the season. This is close.
SMALL FORWARD: Gerald Wallace said recently he has lost all confidence in his shot. The stats show as much: He has hit just three of his past 37 3-point attempts (8.1 percent). But interim coach P.J. Carlesimo loves Wallace's intensity and ability to defend multiple positions, so he'll see plenty of time on the floor.
All-Star Luol Deng, Chicago's go-to wing player, averaged 16.5 points per game and logs a ton of minutes (38.7 a night).
POWER FORWARD: Reggie Evans has been snagging rebounds at a ridiculous rate. In his past 20 games, he's averaging 16.2 boards. He also won't back down from anyone and has playoff experience, which is huge. Granted, his offensive game and his free throw shooting often leave much to be desired.
Carlos Boozer had a solid season for the Bulls, nearly averaging a double-double while shooting 47.7 percent from the field.
CENTER: Brook Lopez had the best season of his career for the Nets. He ranked fifth in the NBA in player efficiency rating (24.81) and made his first All-Star Game.
Joakim Noah, also an All-Star, is Chicago's heart and soul, and has the ability to be a game-changer on both ends of the floor. Noah (11.9 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 4.0 apg, 2.1 bpg) has a right foot injury; his coach says it's possible that Noah could miss some or all of the series.
BENCH: The Nets ranked 12th in the NBA in bench scoring (32.6 ppg), while the Bulls ranked 23rd (29.2). The Chicago reserves were seventh in field goal percentage (44.2), while their Brooklyn counterparts were 18th (42.2). Defensively, the Bulls were way more efficient.
Andray Blatche (10.3 ppg, .512 FG) resurrected his career this season with the Nets. Ex-Bull C.J. Watson has been impressive shooting 3-pointers. In his past 30 game, Watson is connecting at a 53.2 percent clip from beyond the arc. Jerry Stackhouse, ex-Bull Keith Bogans and MarShon Brooks could all see time on the wing. Kris Humphries (5.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg) had a down year.
Nate Robinson was tremendous down the stretch for Chicago, averaging 17.6 points in the past 20 games. Taj Gibson could start on some teams. Marco Belinelli is a proficient 3-point shooter (35.7 percent), while Richard Hamilton is coming back from a back injury. Nazr Mohammed almost signed with the Nets in the offseason.
COACH: P.J. Carlesimo went 35-19 after taking over for Avery Johnson. The Nets all rave about how Carlesimo is a players' coach. Carlesimo will be coaching for his future in the postseason.
Tom Thibodeau is regarded as one of the best coaches in the league. Thibodeau is a defensive mastermind, though he arguably rides his starters too much in terms of minutes played. Given that he hasn't had Rose all season, Thibodeau's work this season has been nothing short of terrific.
PREDICTION: This is going to be a tough series for the Nets to win. The Bulls took three out of four from Brooklyn during the regular season. Still, the Nets have a seemingly healthy trio of stars in D-Will, Iso Joe and Lopez that will carry them into Round 2. In a series that just might go the distance, Brooklyn's home-court advantage turns out to be the difference. NETS IN 7