Matt and I break down what we believe are the most important questions heading into the first round between the Bulls and Nets, starting off with that pesky one that has been there all year.
Will we see Derrick Rose in the playoffs?
Matt McHale: No. If Derrick was going to return, he would have (or, rather, should have) done it with at least a few games left in the regular season, if only to get into some sort of rhythm and develop chemistry with his teammates. Given how cautious Rose has been to this point, it’s difficult to imagine he’d come back in the meat grinder of the NBA playoffs.
Braedan Ritter: Even though Tom Thibodeau said he wouldn’t rule out Rose, I’m going to guess we don’t see the former MVP on the court. I’ve been OK with Rose sitting out this season from the beginning, because sitting out the season is what management did as well. Rose doesn’t feel confident, and as much as that stinks, the Bulls have managed to go 3-1 against Brooklyn without him this year. With all this said, if Rose decided to come back, I’d be ecstatic and scream more than a 13-year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert.
How healthy will Joakim Noah be for the first round? (Update: Joakim Noah is doubtful for Game 1. Nazr Mohammed will start)
MM: Not very. Plantar faciitis doesn’t go away in a few days or even a few weeks. Only extended rest and therapy will help, and Noah won’t have the luxury of time off until the Bulls’ season has ended. At best, Noah will be hobbled for the entirety of the playoffs. The question is: how effective can someone who relies on effort and hustle be on one foot?
BR: Noah played the last two games of the season, not looking well in either of them as he logged 14 minutes in each contest. Plantar fasciitis only heals with rest, and Noah could have rested from March 23 until the playoffs start on April 20—nearly a month. Instead he played three somewhat meaningless games and looked quite rusty or injured or both in the final two. Anyway, to finally answer the question, I don’t expect a ton from Noah. I think he will fight through the pain to play a few games, and I just hope he’s good enough to keep Nazr Mohammed off the court for any period of time.
Which player match-up are you most interested in seeing?
MM: I’m really curious to see the match-up between Kirk Hinrich and Deron Williams. Will Kirk — with ample help from Tom Thibodeau’s defensive schemes — be able to slow down Williams, who has been on an absolute tear for the last month of the season? Because that could be the key to how this series goes.
BR: Joakim Noah and Brook Lopez. I am saying this matchup mostly because I want to see Noah on the court. We only got to see these two battle twice in the regular season. Noah averaged 16.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 2.5 steals against Brooklyn this year. Lopez recorded 20.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks when Noah participated. Deron Williams turned it on at the end of the season, but Lopez was their best player for most of the year, posting the fifth best PER in the league this season. If Noah is out, then my focus will shift to Kirk Hinrich vs. Deron Williams.
Who is the most important player on the Bulls?
MM: With the way this season has gone, I don’t think there’s any one “most important player” on this Bulls team. These players rely heavily on each other and Thibodeau’s defensive system to get through. Although it’s a fair bet that Noah’s ability to play through plantar faciitis will be crucial, given that he is the anchor of Chicago’s defense and the guy who will be relied on to deter Williams when he inevitably beats Hinrich off the dribble.
BR: Carlos Boozer averaged 21.3 points on 53.8 percent shooting to go with 10.7 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 2.7 assists. I think he often gets a bad rap in the playoffs, but in last year’s playoffs, Boozington averaged just 13.5 points on 42.2 percent shooting. He posted a 79 offensive rating to a 95 defensive rating and have a 9.8 PER. Boozer will need to score, but it’s also important he help keep Reggie Evans and Brook Lopez off the offensive glass. If Noah misses a significant amount of the series, Boozer becomes even more important.
More crucial player for the Bulls to stop: Deron Williams or Brook Lopez?
MM: It’s Williams for sure. Lopez can score — and he scored easily and often against the Bulls this season — but that’s about it. His defense is iffy and his rebounding is weak. But Williams is the kind of player who can have an impact in virtually every area. He is the engine that runs the Brooklyn machine. Stopping him, or at least slowing him significantly, is the primary key to stopping the Nets.
BR: I’m going to lean towards Brook Lopez, because of his offensive rebounding. It’s no secret the Bulls struggle to score points, and because of that they need to shut the opponent down. Brook Lopez’s offensive rebound percentage was 10.8, putting him just outside the top 20 in the league. Brooklyn’s center averaged 22.0 points on 52.9 percent from the field in the four contest against the Bulls (but remember Noah missed two of these games). If Chicago can hold Lopez off the glass and limit second chance points it’ll go a long way.
How does the series shake out?
MM: Williams is back in All-Star form and Lopez can score on Chicago’s big men, but the Nets may not have enough firepower past those two. If Noah and Taj Gibson can avoid re-injuring themselves and combine to give the Bulls some version of their old interior defense, I see the Bulls winning this series in six games.
BR: I think the Bulls win in six. This could definitely change depending on the health of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, but the Bulls did grab a two-point win when those two were out in the final regular season meeting with Brooklyn. Either way I assume Taj will be healthy enough to contribute and he can guard Brook Lopez well enough to survive. I expect the games to be close, just as they were in the regular season, but the Bulls defense will lead them through this series. If Noah can’t go much in the series, let’s pretend I never wrote any of this.