They're here. The playoffs are finally here, and for the first time in a long time, the first round shouldn't be a massive battle. The Bulls aren't fighting for respectability or to show well. They're fighting for a championship.
Step one is this game against the Indiana Pacers.
Slow down Danny Granger
The Indiana Pacers have fairly balanced scoring, but the one guy who really stands out as a threat is Danny Granger. Luol Deng might be on the defensive first or second team this year, and he'll get to prove his worth right away in this series. Granger can drive, he can shoot, and he keys the Pacers offense.
We'll need Luol Deng to run him off the three point line and force him into the help defense while driving. I expect Deng to take care of business and force Granger into tough shots all series.
Deng can also do some damage to Granger with his constant movement on the offensive end, running him through screens and forcing him to work on defense.
Don't be afraid to go to Asik/Thomas if Hibbert is bullying Noah
I love Joakim Noah, but he tends to get bullied in the low post. Noah's strengths are help defense. He's not a great man to man post defender. The Pacers are playing much more inside out since firing Jim O'Brien, and Roy Hibbert is becoming a greater key to the Pacers success.
The Bulls should first try and make the Pacers adjust to them by having Joakim run Hibbert off the floor, but if his wheels aren't good enough and it's not working, don't be afraid to make the switch.
Tape up the quote about how Danny Granger thinks it's easier to beat Chicago than Miami or Boston
"Boston's a different monster," he said. "They don't have
the best record in the East, but they won championships; they know how
to do it. They have four, five guys you have to worry about.
"Chicago, they go as Derrick Rose goes. If you make a concerted
effort to stop Derrick Rose, you have a better chance to beat them."
Why would you ever say that when you're about to play the Bulls even if you believe it? Also, how could you ever believe that? It's an insane thought. Especially since you just blew up the Celtics a couple weeks before saying it.
It's playoff time, bring the energy
The Bulls have frequently come out flat and then made up for it later. It's playoff time, they need to get out of that habit and play for 48 minutes. They might get through the Pacers without 100% effort, but they need to set the tone to be ready for the future rounds, because each series after this one can go either way.
I expect a relatively easy win. Thibs will have the Bulls ready to go. Rose will be ready to go. The game is at home. The Bulls are a much better team. If Chicago stays focused it should be able to sweep the Pacers or win in five in a worst case scenario. I expect them to come up with a big win today to kick off the playoffs.