Series preview: Bulls vs. Wizards
Our 5-on-5 crew breaks down the first-round matchup between the Bulls and Wizards:
1. What's the scariest thing -- good or bad -- about the Bulls?
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Insider: Chicago's defense is a near constant, but the Bulls also have managed to find enough offense over the past two months to win most games. They really seem to have found something in point-center Joakim Noah, and because Tom Thibodeau's system keeps Chicago's offensive expectations low, the Bulls have become awfully dangerous.
Dan Feldman, Piston Powered: Thibodeau. He is a maniac, and I mean that mostly as a compliment. He will ensure that his players bring maximum effort and defend hard. Until they collapse from playing 45 minutes per game.
Nick Friedell, ESPNChicago.com: Thibodeau's defense. It can eat teams alive at times. The Bulls trust in the system and believe everything the coach sells. That's a scary thought for any team heading into the playoffs.
Curtis Harris, TrueHoop Network: Their maniacal pursuit of defensive perfection as Thibodeau barks out orders from the sideline like a merciless Roman ship captain to overworked oarsmen. Led by Noah, the players follow every demand and apply a harrowing defensive pressure that leaves opponents haggard.
Kyle Weidie, Truth About It: Intensity. The switch is always on. In fact, someone broke the switch and the Bulls can't turn it off ... especially in the playoffs. That's scary. What else is scary about Chicago? Thibodeau's coaching, and Wizards fans will be first in line to point out that competitive advantage. What remains to be seen is whether D.J. Augustin is as playoff-scary this year as Nate Robinson was last year.
2. What's the scariest thing -- good or bad -- about the Wizards?
Doolittle: Perhaps it's a hangover from the JaVale McGee-Nick Young-Andray Blatche days, but you have to worry about the group's collective lack of playoff experience. It will be paramount for the guys who have played in big games, like Trevor Ariza and Andre Miller, to settle things down when the younger guys get frazzled.
Feldman: Randy Wittman. Wittman, who still holds the worst winning percentage of all time (minimum: 400 games), will coach his first playoff series in eight years as a head coach. I asked him how he'd approach the new experience, and he quickly said he'd keep a plan identical to the regular season. Dangerously confident for someone who's never been there before.
Friedell: John Wall. His speed and his ability to get open looks for his teammates will have Thibodeau concerned. The Bulls have a great team, but they don't have an offensive difference-maker the way Wall has showed to be this season.
Harris: The fleet-footed Wall. Watching him snatch a steal and rocket downcourt is one of the most astonishing sights in the NBA. It's the kind of open-court havoc the Wizards will need to get easy points before the Bulls can apply their half-court defense.
Weidie: Speed can kill (Wall), but not if you buckle up (Chicago D). And "live and die by the 3" is more of a college basketball term, but when the Wizards are livin' (38 percent from deep on the season, same as the Warriors), they are scary. Scariest? That would be the big Brazilian and the large Pole patrolling the paint for Washington.
3. Who's the biggest X factor in this series?
5-on-5: 2014 Playoff Series Previews
Our five-expert teams break down every first-round series in the '14 postseason.
• 5-on-5 preview: Pacers vs. Hawks
• 5-on-5 preview: Heat vs. Bobcats
• 5-on-5 preview: Raptors vs. Nets
• 5-on-5 preview: Bulls vs. Wizards
• 5-on-5 preview: Spurs vs. Mavericks
• 5-on-5 preview: Thunder vs. Grizzlies
• 5-on-5 preview: Clippers vs. Warriors
• 5-on-5 preview: Rockets vs. Blazers
Doolittle: D.J. Augustin. His ability to score off the bench has given the Bulls the element it seemed they lacked when Nate Robinson left after last season, and he's streaky. His ability to score 15-25 points and hit a good percentage of 3s will go a long way toward determining how far the Bulls go in the postseason.
Feldman: John Wall. If the Bulls have a defensive weakness, it's covering point guards. Wall is coming off a career season. At his best, he's a superb playmaker and competent shooter. He'll need to be both and more -- including stout defensively -- if the Wizards have a chance of pulling the upset.
Friedell: Jimmy Butler. Defensively, he's been great since Luol Deng left. But will he be able to handle guarding Bradley Beal and still put up 12-15 points a game on his own? If he does, the Bulls will be in good shape.
Harris: No other major player in this series is as erratic as Trevor Ariza. He can go on incendiary stretches for weeks at a time making over half of his 3-point attempts. Just as easily, he can put up chilling performances where the basket is frozen shut. If Washington is to win this series, he needs to be a human torch from downtown.
Weidie: Bradley Beal aka Big Panda. The second-year cub has rounded nicely into form over the past handful of games after an up-and-down season in which he missed nine games due to a similar stress injury to his leg that prematurely ended his rookie season. And guess what? Beal just loooves feasting on midrange jumpers (available against a good defense like Chicago) like sweet bamboo. If he's hitting (and patient), watch out.
4. What's one BOLD prediction for this series?
Doolittle: John Wall will shoot under 35 percent for the series.
Feldman: This, not Pacers-Hawks or anything else, will be the lowest-scoring series of the entire playoffs. The Bulls just choke the life out of their own offense in the postseason. Last season, Chicago reached 100 points only once in 12 playoff games (and thrice fell below 80). As well as the Bulls strangle their own offense, they'll be even more effective stifling Washington's.
Friedell: Joakim Noah will have two triple-doubles in this series. He's already being asked to do everything anyway -- now he'll be playing almost 48 minutes every time out and will have even more chances to fill up the stat sheet.
Harris: Barack Obama will attend a game. With his beloved Bulls heading to D.C. for some playoff action, how can the president not spend a couple of hours at the Verizon Center?
Weidie: You want bold? Randy Wittman will appear to outcoach Tom Thibodeau when Washington's offense appears slightly better than Chicago's. The real credit will go to the development of John Wall, for which Wittman also deserves some credit. And then there's Sam Cassell -- he'll get fined for doing his patented "Big Balls" dance from the sideline as a Wizards assistant coach.
5. Who wins this series and in how many games?
Doolittle: Bulls in 6. They are too prone for offensive stagnation to sweep any opponent, but their defense will have a cumulative and frustrating effect on the young Wizards.
Feldman: Bulls in 6. The Bulls are the better team, and I expect them to dictate this series through their physicality and playoff experience. But their offense is lacking enough to allow the Wizards a couple of wins.
Friedell: Bulls in 6. Too much experience but -- most of all -- too much defense.
Harris: Bulls in 6. The talent of the two teams is rather comparable, but Thibs will coach circles around Randy Wittman. At least John Wall will get some much-needed playoff experience.
Weidie: Wizards in 6. Write it down, take a picture, filter and blur it on Instagram (but just don't put in on Snapchat).