If the Bulls beat the Cavaliers, it would represent the greatest playoff upset in NBA history. At least the greatest I can think of. Only the once, Warriors over Mavs, has an eight beat a one in a seven game series, and the coaching situation and specific matchup made it ripe to happen. So what makes me think the Bulls can beat the Cavs?
Well quite honestly, nothing. I think the Bulls have a very limited chance to win this series. It's not simply that the Cavs are more talented and have the best player, but it's also the fact that they're rested while almost every key player on the Bulls is banged up.
Luol Deng looks like he's playing at about 50%. Joakim Noah discussed how much his foot still hurts, but he's going entirely on adrenalin. Taj Gibson's play has tailed off as his plantar fasciitis is flared up. James Johnson has a tear in his plantar fascia muscle, and Brad Miller has an assortment of nagging injuries that any player his age would have.
For the Bulls to win, they'll need to catch basically every break, but here are the key things that need to happen.
Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah need to dominate their positions on both ends of the court.
Rose is the Bulls best player, and he's going to need to play big on both ends, because he's matched up against the Cavs second best player and most reliable three point shooter. Rose needs to make sure he stays with Williams off the ball where he has a tendency to sometimes lose guys.
It's not going to be an easy (or fair) matchup for Rose on either end as Rose needs to shut down Williams by himself while Williams will have a whole team's worth of help defense to defend Rose. Still, if the Bulls are to win, this is what needs to happen.
Joakim Noah's plight is almost just as bad. He'll be going up against a combination of Verajao, Shaq, and Z. Three guys with entirely different games, but he'll have to dominate all three with his athleticism and energy while staying with Z on the perimeter and trying to keep Shaq from getting easy dunks.
How many extra possessions and scores Noah can bring the Bulls will largely determine whether or not the Bulls can be competitive. Our offense doesn't run through Noah, but his offensive rebounding and put backs allow our stagnant half court offense to look more efficient. His ability to take the ball down the court on the break opens up a lot of fastbreaks we wouldn't have otherwise.
Speed up the game and make it a track meet
The Bulls probably can't win a track meet against the Cavaliers, but there's no way they can win a brawl. The Cavs half court offense is worlds better than the Bulls, so if this becomes a half court game, the Bulls will have no chance.
Our single greatest advantage offensively is Joakim Noah hustling down the floor against Z or Shaq. The Bulls need to get a lot of baskets out of the Cavs big men being slow and Noah being fast. That won't be easy as the Cavs will slow the game down and try to prevent fast breaks.
The Bulls need to come up with a plan to defend LeBron
Luol Deng has done a fair job on LeBron in the past, but he's battling through a lot of injuries, and in his present state of health, LeBron looks like he's just going to destroy Deng.
Kirk Hinrich can probably pester LeBron in small stretches, but his size is going to stop this from being any kind of permanent option, though Kirk with help underneath might be the best option if Deng isn't healthy.
James Johnson flashed some great defense against LeBron earlier this season, but it's unlikely Vinny will trust him enough to give the match up much of a chance, and his own plantar fascia tear may prevent him from repeating the effort anyway.
I'm sure LeBron will see an array of double teams and a whole scheme aimed at stopping him, but the Cavs have enough talent now that a triple LeBron at all costs plan has no hope of working.
If the Bulls win a couple games, I expect Johnson to be a pretty big part of it, as I think he's the most likely candidate to frustrate LeBron on the roster given Luol's health problems. That alone should scare you out of expecting any wins.
Kirk for three!
When Kirk is hitting the three the Bulls are worlds tougher to defend. Derrick Rose gets more space to work with, and the offense moves much better. He's been streaky his whole career, and he hasn't been reliable this year, but for the Bulls to have a shot at winning, they'll need quality shooting from the three point line and Kirk is the most likely candidate.
If Deng, Miller, Pargo, Johnson, or Murray can step up as well then all the better, but the Bulls need to spread the floor to give Rose a chance, or they need to punish the Cavs severely for not respecting the shooters.
Of our guys, Kirk is the most likely to make it happen, and he's been on a hot streak from the three point arc recently, so we can at least hope.
Sadly, it's unlikely that the Bulls are able to accomplish almost any of these things yet alone accomplishing all four frequently enough to win the series. There really is no argument [other than LeBron getting hit by a bus style argument] that says the Bulls should win, and in a seven game series you simply can't just get lucky once, you need to get lucky four times.
Odds of the Bulls taking down the Cavs: 1.7%.