Healthy Nets too much at home
Deron Williams has regained his status as one of the elite point guards in the NBA, averaging 22.9 points and 8.0 assists since taking a week off during the All-Star break.
Former MVP Derrick Rose, on the other hand, missed the entire regular season after undergoing knee surgery and is unlikely to play in the series.
The Nets, who have avoided significant injury all season (fans would want me to knock on wood here), appear to be healthy. Joe Johnson (heel/quad) said he doesn't feel 100 percent, but connected on 44.6 percent of his field goal attempts and averaged 16.5 points in the final four games of the season. Gerald Wallace and Keith Bogans are a bit banged up, but they'll both play.
The Bulls, on the other hand, are hoping that several of their key players can overcome injuries. Joakim Noah is attempting to battle through plantar fasciitis. And Chicago will need him to deal with Brook Lopez, who ranked fifth in the NBA in PER, playing the best basketball of his career. Taj Gibson is just getting back from a knee injury. Richard Hamilton was thought to be lost for the season due to a back injury. Not good.
In a grind-it-out series that will feature plenty of half-court defense and just might go the distance, being able to play at home in Game 7 is huge -- and the Nets hold that advantage as well.
That's why I'm taking Brooklyn in 7.
Michael Mazzeo writes for ESPNNewYork.com.
As long as they stay healthy
As much as the Bulls are trying to downplay the success they've had against Brooklyn -- winning the season series 3-1 -- reality for the Bulls is their biggest challenge in the first round is just to stay healthy. The only team that truly scares the Bulls is the Miami Heat. The Nets are more like the appetizer to that main course.
The Bulls know that if they can neutralize Deron Williams and stay in front of Brook Lopez, they can win this series. That's why the biggest key for the Bulls is Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson being able to stay on the floor. But Noah looks like his plantar fasciitis is still bothering him quite a bit, and Gibson is playing with a bulky knee brace that he doesn't like.
Same goes for Kirk Hinrich, who has played through multiple injuries this season. If he can keep Williams in check, the Nets don't have any other major weapons that scare Tom Thibodeau.
The Bulls have been missing a closer, someone like Derrick Rose, all year. They need someone to be able to create his own shots late. It's a role Nate Robinson has played several times and one he will surely want to play again. But it's not the kind of role that is imperative to success in this series. If the Bulls stick to their script and play defense they way they're capable of, they'll find a way to win. The biggest key for them in this series has nothing to do with the Nets and has everything to do with being able to play through pain.
If the Bulls stay relatively healthy, they will be victorious.
Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com.