The Atlanta Hawks left nothing to chance in a game against the Knicks where both teams cleared the bench, but the Hawks had incentive to lose while the Knicks simply just wanted to get the game over with. The Bulls went out and won their game anyway and climbed to the fifth seed against the Brooklyn nets on their own.
The Bulls match up well against the Nets tissue soft interior and should control the glass. Should the Bulls win, they'll draw Miami in round two which will likely end their playoff chances, but no one expects a Roseless Bulls team to make the ECF anyway, so I can get behind the easier first round match up with a better chance of advancing at least once.
The Nets have more offensive firepower than Chicago, but the Bulls are well positioned to defend the Nets best options as long as they can stay reasonably healthy. Of course reasonably healthy might be dicey as Joakim Noah didn't look like much in that Wizards game. He's clearly well below 100% and while the Bulls have until Saturday for game 1, the odds are that if Noah isn't 100% yet that he's likely not getting a whole lot closer with two days off.
Stopping Deron Williams
The first priority for the Bulls is stopping Deron Williams. While the Nets, theoretically, have multiple quality offensive options, the scariest one is Williams. Deron has the range to shoot from the outside, the strength to finish inside, and plays a solid all around game. He can take over when needed or move the ball around.
Fortunately for the Bulls, Deron Williams isn't an athletic freak nor is he among the league's elite in terms of physical quickness. He plays with an exceptionally high skill level, but he's the type of point guard that Kirk Hinrich excels in defending. Hinrich's fundamentally sound and plays with all out defensive effort which are traits that will work better against Williams than a guard who could beat him with pure athleticism rather than skill level.
Ironically, the only time the Nets were able to top the Bulls in Deron's worst game where he scored just 11 points. Also ironic that Nate Robinson D'd him up for most of the game as well. The Bulls were killed by Andray Blatche of all people when the Bulls were decimated with injuries, of course they defeated Brooklyn multiple times while missing key players as well.
Jimmy G Buckets will shut down Joe Johnson
One of the best things about this match up is Jimmy Butler can match up on Joe Johnson which would typically be one of the advantages the Nets would have on most teams in the league. However, Jimmy's got plenty of size and quickness at SG to keep Johnson firing away long range contested jumpers.
I look for JJ to throw up around 16-18 shots a night, mostly long range contested jumpers, and am betting he shoots less than 40% for the series. The Bulls can also easily switch almost any position on the perimeter as Hinrich, Deng, and Butler can likely each defend each other's man.
Hinrich on Wallace would have seemed like a stretch a couple years ago, but Wallace has fallen into such a hole offensively that the Bulls should dare him to try and take advantage of a match up if they tried to switch Hinrich on him. Chicago will still have plenty of help around the rim.
What will we get out of Luol Deng?
Luol Deng's been a streaky shooter for much of the season. When he's on the Bulls are deadly, but when he's off the Bulls frequently struggle to find much offense. One of the big keys to a Bulls victory will be whether Luol can knock down his open three point shots. When he's chipping in two of five from beyond the arc the Bulls are a hell of a lot more deadly than on his one for four or 0-fer nights.
Deng shouldn't have much trouble slowing Gerald Wallace as noted above, and while he's not a roamer on defense he should take an extra step or two towards the paint on defense to help defend the middle, particularly against Brook Lopez.
No one to exploit Boozer
Perhaps the best thing about playing the Nets is that they have no one who's going to kill Carlos Boozer with their offense. Perhaps Andray Blatche could do that [and in fact has done that once], but the Nets probably won't make the reach to play/depend on Blatche for obvious reasons. Instead, they'll likely have inept guys like Humphries and Evans going up against Boozer.
While they're both hustle guys who can hit the glass hard, Carlos is fairly adept at defending the glass and is less likely to be taken advantage of by either of them than someone with a little bit of offensive talent who could generate their own shot against him.
On the offensive end, Carlos should fare well against whomever he matches up with making him one of the big keys to a Bulls series win. A scary thought for the Boozer bashers, and while I count myself among those ranks, I think Boozer can make a big difference in this series.
Shutting down Lopez?
Brook Lopez has had some monster games against Chicago, of course, the Bulls played a couple without Noah, one of those also without Gibson, and Lopez still tends to fade down the stretch. He gives somewhat of a Boozeresque effort of scoring early, but not reliably as the game goes on. He's physically soft and doesn't rebound, and isn't the type of guy you want to rely on.
While Lopez has the talent to make things tough for the Bulls, he doesn't inspire much fear. Due to his limited athleticism, the Bulls can even throw Nazr Mohammed on him for a couple stretches down low without likely getting beat up to bad. However, Chicago will be much better off if Joakim Noah is reasonably healthy and can stay on the court.
A healthy Noah can beat Lopez down the floor, beat him off the dribble, and give the Bulls some scoring/passing from the center position. It's hard to remember how good Joakim is when he hasn't played any significant minutes for so long.
The playoffs are a different animal, and while the Bulls played well against the Nets in the regular season that doesn't really mean a whole lot for the post season. I think Chicago has a coaching advantage and a toughness advantage, but the Nets definitely have more skilled offensive players.
The style of play will go a long way towards determining the outcome. If the refs allow a more physical contest then the Bulls style of defense and gritty play will have a much better chance, however if the game is officiated tightly then Chicago may struggle in a shoot out.
Overall, I'd call the series a 50/50, but I'll take the Bulls to close out the Nets in game six at the United Center.