Are the Chicago Bulls done?
The Bulls, whom many people expected to (at least) advance past the first round, suddenly find themselves in a 2-0 hole to the Wizards. Chicago, after dropping its two home games, now heads to Washington with a tall task. Can the Bulls recover? Let's play Fact or Fiction!
1. Fact or Fiction: The Bulls are done.
Dan Feldman, Piston Powered: Fiction. Five words: Randy Wittman versus Tom Thibodeau. Wittman has done well so far, but the deeper a playoff series goes, the more coaching matters, and Thibodeau is still the better coach. That gives the Bulls at least a fighting chance to adjust and overcome their 2-0 hole.
Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: Fiction. The Bulls have too much heart and toughness to just roll over now. Thibodeau and Joakim Noah won't let them. But -- if they can't find a way to score late in games, all the heart in the world won't matter. The Bulls are being reminded of a lesson they've learned before: Talent usually wins out in the postseason.
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Insider: Fiction. These two games have been way too close to call it for the Wizards just yet. The Bulls have blown two leads in the final five minutes of regulation. If Noah is healthy, I'm not declaring him or his team out of it. They're not done, but their backs are against the wall.
Zach Harper, A Wolf Among Wolves: Fiction. It seems as though whenever we count the Bulls out of something, they catapult themselves back into the conversation and make something happen. They're not in a good position, but they've been resilient enough to persevere in the past. I don't think you can count them out just yet.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Fiction. No series is over after two games. Indeed, history shows us that being down 0-2 is big trouble and having to go on the road with that deficit is usually curtains. However, the Bulls have traits that travel, such as defense and rebounding, and they have shown they can win on the road in the playoffs. The Wizards are now the favorite, it changes the pressure profile.
2. Fact or Fiction: The Bulls would be up 2-0 with Luol Deng.
Feldman: Fiction. Chicago's biggest problem is offensive stagnancy, and if Thibodeau had another half-season to run Deng ragged, he'd probably be just as tired as the other Bulls who can't consistently generate anything besides late-shot-clock jumpers. Deng hasn't had an effective field goal percentage above 47 in three years (NBA average: 50), and it was 39 in last year's playoffs. And let's not ignore that the Bulls played better after trading Deng.
Friedell: Fiction. The Bulls need elite-level offensive players. Deng is an All-Star, but he has never been the guy a team hands the ball off to and says, "Go get 20." The Bulls still miss Deng -- but he wouldn't be an offensive difference-maker in this series.
Haberstroh: Fiction. Maybe he'd tilt their favor by a few points and take one of these two games, but I'm not willing to say he'd definitively win both for them. They certainly lack depth on the wing (Jimmy Butler played 53 minutes in Game 2!), but they were doing just fine without Deng in the regular season. Weird things happen -- such as Kirk Hinrich missing free throws.
Harper: Fiction. This is a pretty good Wizards team and them stealing a game or two in Chicago is not a crazy idea. But imagine Deng squaring off against Bradley Beal Tuesday night with Butler on John Wall. They're missing that defensive versatility without Deng.
Windhorst: Fiction. This seems to be a question about offense, suggesting having Deng would make a difference. The Bulls had seven players score in double figures in Game 1. In Game 2 they had three guys score 20 points. The Bulls have always struggled to score in half-court situations in the postseason, even when Deng was on the team. This is a team that if it scores 90 points in regulation should have a good chance to win a playoff game. They have twice yet are 0-2 so far.
3. Fact or Fiction: The Bulls should pursue Melo in the offseason.
Feldman: Fact. Carmelo Anthony's biggest flaw is how hard it is to build a team around his shortcomings, given his salary. But the Bulls already have defenders in Noah and Butler and another scoring threat in Derrick Rose -- and could keep all three while pursuing Melo. Melo worked his tail off for the dismal Knicks this season, and that should prove to the Bulls he'd do the same for them.
Friedell: Fact. The Bulls made only four field goals in the last 12:16 of Game 2. Yeah, they could use Melo.
Haberstroh: Fact. We're already here, huh? Of course, they should pursue Anthony. They can't score and he's one of the best scorers in the game. And it's clear that they have no intention of Carlos Boozer being a focal point of the team, so I don't see them worrying too much about letting him go, even if it means they have to pay him to leave.
Harper: Fact. Within reason, adding Anthony to the Chicago Bulls to run with Noah, Butler, Taj Gibson, possibly Nikola Mirotic, and a presumably healthy Rose is a championship-caliber core. You just have to hope Melo is willing to take a reasonable pay cut in the process.
Windhorst: Fact. If, and this is a huge if, Anthony is willing to take a big pay cut. He has said he's willing to take a pay cut, but is he willing to take potentially $7 million-plus less per season than New York or the Lakers could offer? Keep in mind, LeBron James took $7 million less total over six years to sign in Miami than his full max and he covers much of that through state income tax savings on other income streams. It was not $7 million per season over four years. Melo at that sort of discount makes sense. Melo at $100 million where you have to trade away half the roster to make room, that doesn't make as much sense.
4. Fact or Fiction: We should have seen the Wizards coming.
Feldman: Fact. When Nene and the rest of the Wizards have been healthy, they've been really good, and now they're healthy. Nene has played 35 minutes in consecutive games for the first time since November, and he has looked fresh. The Wizards aren't a great team, but they're complete and balanced, and that should be good enough for at least a first-round win in this Eastern Conference.
Friedell: Fact. I knew they were young and hungry -- what I did not know was how mentally tough they would be late in games. They haven't panicked in the first two games of this series when they got down late. It's going to take even more for them to close down the series -- but their confidence is building each game.
Haberstroh: Fact. Look, they're a 5-seed that beat the 4-seed 2-1 in the regular-season series. Did they really sneak up on anybody? And they've won two extremely close, hard-fought games, so I'm not willing to say the Wizards have blown away all expectations. I picked Chicago to win this series in seven games, so I'm not surprised at all to see the Wizards giving them trouble.
Harper: Fact. John Wall didn't dazzle us to our expectations right away, so a lot of fans immediately wrote him off. In retrospect, that was silly because he's an incendiary player. This is a solid mixture of young players with the dynamic backcourt and good veterans who fill a role. This has been a dangerous team all season.
Windhorst: Fact. While the Heat and Nets were playoff positioning in the last week, the Wizards were going all out to get to the No. 5 seed to have a chance at the Bulls. They had a lot of confidence after going 2-1 against them in the regular season, the loss coming without Nene. Also, they liked the Wall matchups in this series. Though not even their owner thought they'd be up 2-0 right now.
5. Fact or Fiction: The winner of this series is going to the East finals.
Feldman: Fact. Despite pulling away from the Hawks in Game 2, the Pacers still have Game 1 and the entire latter stretch of the regular season on their record. Beating the lowly Hawks would say little about the Pacers, and a Hawks victory would say nothing about them and everything about Indiana. This series' winner will face either a bad team or a crumbling team. We know how bad the Hawks are. The only question would be just how much disarray Indiana is in by Round 2.
Friedell: Fact. Indiana is a mentally weak team. Atlanta just isn't very good. No matter who comes out of the Bulls/Wizards series -- both of those teams can beat Indiana or Atlanta in seven games.
Haberstroh: Fiction. I see the Pacers eventually coming out on top against Atlanta and, call me crazy, but I still think the No. 1 seed will reach the Eastern Conference finals. The Pacers won the regular-season series against the Wizards 2-1, so it's not as if Washington has their number, too.
Harper: Fiction. I'm not sure the Indiana Pacers are just afterthoughts at this point. Maybe they'll end up being afterthoughts, but in the immortal words of Mickey the Trainer, "I didn't hear no bell." This Pacers team provides huge matchup issues to either team in this series and should make for a great second round.
Windhorst: Fiction. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Long way from that. No way to responsibly make such a prediction now. Though Bill Simmons predicted it before the playoffs started, so he can claim to be the early adopter.