The Bulls, who defeated the Indiana Pacers in the first round in five games, will face the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Hawks defeated the Orlando Magic Thursday night 84-81 led by Joe Johnson's 23 points.
It took the Hawks six games to defeat the fourth-seeded Magic, who will be heading to a very dark offseason.
You could tell the Magic were doomed from the beginning as Dwight Howard put up 46 points and 19 rebounds in the Magic's Game 1 loss. Howard was fabulous during the six-game series, averaging 27 points and 15 and a half rebounds, but he didn't have much help. J.J. Redick had a wide-open look at a three-pointer late in the game which would have tied it up at 84 had it gone in.
He missed it long, however, the Magic got the ball back with 1.8 seconds remaining as Al Horford rebounded the ball out-of-bounds. The Hawks played stifling defense on the final play, and the Magic were forced to throw up a desperation three-pointer by Jason Richardson, which got blocked.
A first round exit was the last thing Howard wanted to see, but it has come to fruition. The chances of him staying in Orlando, in the summer of 2012, are worsening by the day. There's no question Howard needs help. The Magic will need to have a good offseason to keep Howard pleased in their efforts to win.
The Hawks crowd let the Magic have it, as one fan held a sign that said, "Hey Jameer ... we'll tell Derrick you said Hello." That, of course, stems from Magic point guard Jameer Nelson telling Derrick Rose that the Magic will be seeing the Bulls in the second round. Well, Jameer, you couldn't even get by the 44-win Hawks.
The Bulls may catch a break against the Hawks: Kirk Hinrich suffered a strain hamstring late in Thursday night's game. Unfortunately for him, it came right after a crucial layup for the Hawks, extending their lead to four points with about three minutes remaining. He did not return and we'll know more about his status in the upcoming days.
The series won't last long if the Hawks are without Hinrich's services. However, don't expect Hinrich to miss time. The extent of the injury is unknown right now, but Hinrich, who's missed 70 games during his eight seasons in the NBA, is a tough player. He won't want to miss the Eastern Conference semifinals, as it will be just the second time Hinrich's made it past the first round.
The top-seeded Bulls and Hawks will play Game 1 on Monday, May 2 at 7pm (C.S.T.). The game will be televised on TNT, and if you can't watch it, catch the game on the radio at ESPN 1000. You can see the schedule in its entirety here.
More to come, including a full preview of the series.