Apr 27, 2012, 1:40 AM EDT
Chicago: 50-16 (1 seed)
Philadelphia: 35-31 (8 seed)
Chicago won 2-1
OFFENSE/ DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possessions):
Offense: Chicago 107.4 (5th in NBA), Philadelphia 103.9 (20th in NBA)
Defense: Chicago 98.3 (2nd in NBA), Philadelphia 99.2 (3rd in NBA)
THREE KEY BULLS:
Derrick Rose: Last season’s MVP has had an up-and-down season thanks to injuries. Rose is a better playmaker than he was last season, but his points per game, field goal percentage, and 3-point percentage have all taken a significant dip, and he only played in 39 of Chicago’s 66 games. The incredibly deep Bulls were able to secure the East’s best record anyways, but there’s no way they will win a championship if Rose doesn’t return to form in the playoffs.
Rip Hamilton: In last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Bulls looked like they were one offensive weapon short against Miami’s relentless strong-side traps of Derrick Rose. In the off-season, the Bulls acquired Hamilton with the hope he could be that weapon. Hamilton averaged 11.7 points per game this season, and while he’s not the player he was in Detroit anymore, he still works as hard as any player in the league off the ball offensively and can make shots from all over the floor.
Joakim Noah: Even though the Bulls are a much more dangerous offensive team this season than they were last year, they’re still a defense-first team, and will only go as far as their defense can carry them in the playoffs. Noah is the Bulls’ defensive quarterback, and his uncanny ability to handle and pass the ball for a center gives the Bulls an extra dimension offensively when they keep him involved.
THREE KEY 76ers:
Andre Iguodala: After years being miscast as a #1 scoring option, Iguodala is finally being allowed to play the role he was meant to play: an efficient point forward who does work without the ball and is one of the three best perimeter defenders in the league. Iguodala’s points per game are down this season, but his FG and 3PT% are both way up, and he leads the 76ers in assists per game.
Lou Williams: Even though Williams didn’t make a single start for Philadelphia this season, he managed to lead the team in both points per game and PER. Williams isn’t a high-percentage shooter, but he makes a lot of threes and rarely turns the ball over, which can make him a headache for any defense as a scoring option off the bench. C.J. Watson is a great defensive point guard, so Williams will have his hands full, but in a series that should be as low-scoring as this one, a few timely shots from Williams could make all the difference in the world.
Elton Brand/Thaddeus Young:Okay, so I’m cheating a little bit with this one, but it’s hard to separate the two members of Philadelphia’s power forward platoon. Young is well, Young, left-handed, and likes to do his damage inside, while the veteran Brand is mainly a pick-and-pop player at this stage in his career, but both players have extremely similar numbers and are an integral part of Philadelphia’s attack. Since Carlos Boozer has been known to struggle on both ends of the floor in playoff situations, particularly on defense, Philadelphia will need Brand and Young to “win” the matchup against Boozer if they want to pull off the upset.
This should be a good first-round test for the Bulls. This should be a hard-fought, defensive series, which means the Bulls won’t be able to coast to many blowout victories. On top of that, Philadelphia’s defense was actually statistically better than Miami’s this season, which will allow the Bulls to see if they have what it takes to “break” a top-five defense in a playoff series this season. The Bulls will be tested in this series, but I don’t think they’ll have much trouble passing.<
Chicago in 5 hard-fought games.