Celtics vs. Bulls
CELTICS SHOULD SCARE BULLS
With a 15-5 record out of the All-Star break -- matching the Bulls for the best mark in the NBA in the second half of the season -- the Boston Celtics are absolutely a threat to Chicago in the Eastern Conference.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers admits his team didn't come into the season in particularly good shape and health woes contributed to seesaw play during the first half of the year. Over the past six weeks, Boston has looked a lot more like the team we've come to expect during the Big Three era, leaning on its core while cranking up its defense and producing some of its most inspired play against top-caliber opponents.
Maybe the most encouraging aspect of Boston's recent play has been the team-wide improvements. Kevin Garnett has turned back the clock and upped his offensive output since shuffling to the center position; Paul Pierce continues to elevate areas of his game that the team is lacking and his scoring hasn't eroded despite season-long shooting woes; Rajon Rondo has been otherworldly while quarterbacking this offense and handing out double-digit assists in 13 straight games; and Brandon Bass has quietly solidified the starting unit while playing quality ball at both ends of the floor.
Even with Ray Allen sidelined by a sore right ankle, the Celtics won five in a row entering the week. Not only is Allen nearing a return, but second-year guard Avery Bradley has blossomed into a key contributor (some even wondering if he should remain with the first unit moving forward).
It all adds up to a Boston team that should scare any playoff foe, including the Bulls. Yes, Chicago -- if healthy -- poses matchup problems for the Celtics, but Boston's playoff experience makes it a team that few top seeds will want to encounter in the postseason.
And the Bulls now have more to worry about than just Miami and Orlando.
BULLS' DEPTH STILL TOO MUCH FOR BOSTON
The Boston Celtics just won't die. You've got to respect their fortitude. I mean Kevin Garnett will be terrorizing rookies and Euros until we're driving hovercars. But just because the Celtics didn't pass away from natural causes, and just because they wisely held onto Rajon Rondo -- the human triple-double, doesn't mean the Bulls should be unnaturally worried about Boston in the playoffs.
Now, I'm not saying the Bulls shouldn't be concerned with preparing for Boston if those two teams should meet in Rounds 1 or 2. With Tom Thibodeau in charge, that won't be a problem.
But the Celtics aren't a real danger to the Bulls' playoffs hopes, especially not if Derrick Rose is active. The Bulls are just too deep. Lately, Chicago has given some uneven efforts, though I don't think that will be a factor in the postseason. The Bulls' depth on the front line will give them a decided rebounding advantage and will spell the end for Boston.
While Garnett is feeling frisky again, the Celtics are 30th in rebounding (38.6 per game) and the Bulls are first (46.1) going into their third matchup of the season Thursday.
In the Bulls' win over Boston this season, Chicago held a 47-34 rebounding advantage. In their loss, which came without Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton, Boston out-rebounded the Bulls, 44-42. In that game, Rondo had 10 as part of a triple-double.
The Celtics are good enough to beat a lot of teams, but in a seven-game series, Chicago will be too deep and too tough.