The Atlanta Hawks lead their first round matchup 3-1 against the Orlando Magic, and after playing four close games. Orlando finally played like Orlando, Atlanta played like Atlanta, and the result was a butt whipping of epic proportions.
Frank Vogel has to look at this series and think it's what the Bulls/Pacers series should have been. He'd be wrong, but I'm sure he thinks it.
Lots of similarities in the first five games, but an MVP sized difference in the outcome
Game 1: Both favorites play like crap and fall into huge deficits. Both star players put up statement cases for their MVP credential. Derrick Rose becomes an unstoppable God in the clutch leading his team to a win. Dwight Howard puts up stats so monster you can start comparing them to all time great statistical playoff performances. Oh yeah, his team lost btw.
Game 2: After a tight game one, both teams are expected to come out and play with huge energy and blow the doors off the upstart opponent. Both teams still struggle to defeat their opponent, but both teams pull off the win.
Game 3: Fans of both squads are wondering what the hell they've gotten into, but still figure this series is in the bag, and their team will start playing better. Both games go down to the wire with the favorite in a tough spot. Derrick Rose with the game winner. The Magic can't even go to Dwight Howard.
Game 4: Different vibe going into the game for both teams, but the result is the same, both teams get down big, both teams make furious runs at the close. Both teams fall short.
Game 5: Both teams come out and finally play their game and absolutely annihilate their competition.
The Bulls won in five. The Magic are down 3-2. The difference? Derrick Rose vs Dwight Howard. Talk about the lousy cast all you want, but throughout most of this Pacer series, the Bulls cast was atrocious. Derrick Rose wore his cast like 10lb ankle weights for most of the first round, and won anyway.
Derrick Rose is a closer. Dwight Howard isn't. As special as you are in the NBA, the most important 2-3 minutes are at the end of the game when Derrick Rose is at his best and Dwight Howard is at his worst.
Thoughts on facing the Hawks
They have a versatile and balanced scoring attack when playing well. The type of attack that tends to give the Bulls more trouble than a singularly focused star player.
Unfortunately for them, they have a tendency to launch bad shot after bad shot, and the Bulls defense forces teams into a lot of bad shots already. I don't think Atlanta can execute well enough against Chicago over a series to do much damage.
I trust Luol Deng, Ronnie Brewer, or Keith Bogans to defend Joe Johnson adequately one on one, and the rest of the scorers are good, but not scary good. I don't think they have any answer defensively for Derrick Rose. Hinrich might be their best perimeter defender, but as we know, he struggles with quicker guards and defends better against larger physical guys.
Looking at the Hawks offense, there's no one that you look at and go "wow that matchup is going to be really tough for us". The scariest matchup might be Josh Smith taking Carlos Boozer outside, and watching the Hawks, if Smith is going outside then all the better for us anyway.
It's simply hard for me to see Atlanta beating Chicago unless Chicago lays a massive egg. The Bulls A game is simply much better than the Hawks A game.
Thoughts on facing the Magic
Dwight Howard still represents a monster sized problem for Chicago. While Asik did an admirable job against him in the regular season, I don't necessarily trust him in the playoffs to do the same. The Bulls do have plenty of bodies to throw at Howard, but obviously, he's the type of guy there is no matchup for.
If their shooters shoot well, the Magic can simply take out anyone. When their shooters don't shoot well, they can also lose to just about anyone.
I also love the fact that in the final two minutes, the Bulls offense naturally goes to it's strength which is Derrick Rose in isolation to create for himself or someone else. The Magic offense goes to it's weakness and tries to create a shot with Turkoglu or Nelson around the perimeter.
As such, I see the Bulls with a large advantage down the stretch of close games.
Now any team can knock out any other if they get great shooting for an extended stretch, but unlike the Hawks, the Magic have an offense designed to create great shooting by maximizing corner threes, loading things up with shooters, and an inside out game that creates great shots.
The Magic's A game and the Bulls A game aren't far apart. Advantage Chicago, but not in overwhelming fashion.
I've never watched so much basketball in my life
Maybe it's because after so many years, the Bulls can finally win, but I've never been this into the playoffs in my life. I've still kept up my streak of watching at least one quarter of every game, at least a half of almost every game, and all of a bunch more.
Some random thoughts around the playoffs so far.
I don't think we learned much about Boston or Miami
They're officially going to square off in the second round, and quite frankly, after their first round series, I don't think we learned much about either team. I had severe doubts about Boston going into the playoffs, and while they're the only team to sweep, they ended up with by far the easiest matchup in the NBA facing a struggling Knicks team that ended up with significant injuries.
Miami didn't have to prove much either. The 76ers had a hot streak during the regular season, but ultimately, it's typically not hard to adjust to a team with no one who kills you off the dribble, no dominant low post option, and lousy outside shooting.
Are the Grizzlies the best eight seed going into the playoffs ever?
They might be. They played tremendously well to end the season, and they've carried that straight into the playoffs. Watching Zach Randolph makes me embarrassed that I wanted no part of him on my team.
That is until I remember he was possibly going to miss this season due to jailtime for trying to start up his own drug cartel. Yeah, the downsides of Randolph still pretty big when you step back and think about it.
The Spurs pulled a horseshoe out of their ass to not be eliminated last night, and while I'm certainly not going to be shocked if San Antonio comes back and wins this thing, Memphis has to have the advantage at this point.
Despite Memphis's standing as a really, really good team, possibly the eighth or so best team in the NBA rather than a legit eight seed, the Spurs are still showing you why they're not scary at all. There's no doubt in my mind the Bulls would wipe the floor with them in a series if they played.
The Hornets have shown why the Bulls can beat LA
The Hornets have played tough. I thought on talent, they might be the weakest team in the playoffs as they're entering without one of their best players. If they had David West, would the Hornets have beaten LA (yes, I realize they still could, but not holding my breath)?
The Lakers simply can't defend quicker point guards, and they're going to struggle against the Thunder and would struggle against Chicago if the teams meet. They'll have no answer for Westbrook/Rose.
Dirk's shedding the underachiever label, at least so far
Watching this series, Dirk has really been tremendous and clutch closing out some games. However, the Blazers did mount one huge comeback, and while their down 2-3 right now, I still can't bring myself to have faith that the Mavs close this thing out.
I thought this was the most interesting first round series going in, but it's been somewhat lost in the shuffle with the excitement of the rest of the Western conference action. I'm excited to see what happens tonight, but I think this one heads to a game seven.
The Thunder sure look dangerous
Kevin Durant had a lousy playoffs last year, but watching him close out games this year, I think the Thunder are presently playing the best basketball in the West, and possibly in the entire playoffs.
We'll see what happens when they have to defend against a team with a legitimate superstar though.
Monday? Really, we have to wait until Monday?