Add Phildelphia 76ers guard Evan Turner to the list of opponents who believe they would be able to topple the Chicago Bulls in a playoff series.
The Chicago native made that observation over the weekend when asked about a potential first-round matchup between the Sixers and Bulls, claiming the Miami Heat would be a more difficult challenge.
“It means we’re dodging the tougher team,” Turner told the Delaware County Times. “That’s what I think.”
Before last year’s postseason, Indiana Pacers swingman Danny Granger made similar comments when he stated he would rather face the Bulls in the playoffs than the Boston Celtics. This season, the New York Knicks have also gained confidence that they could get past the Bulls in a potential series.
With one game remaining in the regular season for both teams, the Bulls are likely to play the Sixers in the opening round this weekend. The Sixers eked out a 90-85 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night and have the same 35-30 record as the New York Knicks. The only way Turner – who had a career-high 29 points against the Bucks – doesn’t get his wish is if the Sixers top the Detroit Pistons on Thursday while the Knicks lose in Charlotte.
“I think we’ll be able to compete well against Chicago,” Turner told the paper, “and have an opportunity to win the series.”
For their part, the Bulls have felt disrespected at times over the past two seasons, a notion Carlos Boozer recently alluded to.
“Why doesn’t it bother me? At the end of the day, you’ve got to out there and play the games,” the Bulls’ center added. “We’re only worried about us right now. We’ll worry about Evan Turner when we need to worry about Evan Turner, if … God willing.”
From top to bottom, the Bulls are confident they will achieve their goals as long as they focus on themselves and let the chips fall where they may.
“I believe that we’re just as good and we’re just as talented as any team in the NBA, but the only team that’s going to give us the most problems is the Chicago Bulls,” point guard and former NBA champion Mike James told me Friday night during a phone interview. “It doesn’t matter if we play the Knicks; it doesn’t matter if we play the 76ers; it doesn’t matter if we play the Pacers. All these teams, they have one focus on their mind: They also believe that they can win an NBA championship. We can’t focus on who we’re playing against. Our main focus is how is our mentality going into the playoffs and how are we feeling when we play against any of these teams.”
Coach Tom Thibodeau has made it clear to his players that they have to go through, not around, teams.
“Our goal is to win a championship,” Kyle Korver told the assembled media Wednesday. “We don’t care who we play [in] the first round, second round, third round, we want to go through everybody. That’s our mindset. We don’t want to go around anybody. We got the one seed and we’re ready for whoever is eight.”
With Wednesday’s win, the Bulls lowered their magic number to clinch the top overall seed in the NBA to one game, as the Spurs – owners of an identical 49-16 record – topped the Phoenix Suns later in the night. They also will not know their first-round foe until Thursday night.