Playoff Primer Round 1: Chicago Bulls vs Washington Wizards

From Flickr via Matthew Britt

From Flickr via Matthew Britt

To (heavily) paraphrase a line from Rust Cohle, the NBA season is a flat circle. This season saw Chicago Bulls fans cycle from hope and excitement (Derrick Rose’s return), to disappointment and despair (his injury), to grief (the Luol Deng trade). But as the season progressed our sorrow slowly morphed back into optimism with stellar play from the team and, now that the playoffs are here, are back to feeling hope and excitement about what this team could accomplish.

This year’s hope stems from the ideal playoff seeding. With an end-of-the-season loss, the Brooklyn Nets fell from the 5th seed to the 6th seed, keeping Chicago out of what would have likely been a very grueling and exhausting physical series. Instead, the Bulls have drawn the Wizards in the first round for what should be an easier series physically. Should Chicago advance they’re likely to face a struggling Indiana Pacers team that is far from a lock to make the Eastern Conference Finals.

But before we get ahead of ourselves we need to remember that though the Wizards will be less of a physical drain, they’re still a young and dangerous team that could present quite the challenge for the Bulls.

Season Series:

The Wizards beat the Bulls in two of the three games they played during the regular season. As tempting as it sometimes is to look at the regular season records as a measuring stick for success, it’s important to realize that the two wins the Wizards have came against a very different Bulls team. At the time Chicago was struggling having to deal with injuries, losing Luol Deng, and learning a new way to play without the veteran swingman. But since January 17th Joakim Noah played his way into MVP ballots, Taj Gibson emerged as a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, and DJ Augustin has enjoyed a career resurgence that has more than dropped jaws, it’s broken them. All of this has led Chicago to the best second-half of the season record in the Eastern Conference. Thus if there’s any game we can use as a means to predict what to expect in this series it’d be the third game played earlier this month (that Chicago won). Unfortunately one game doesn’t tell nearly enough to make any sort of prediction about a series.

Roster advantages:

Front Court: Chicago Bulls- Let’s not act very surprised. The tandem of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson is arguably one of the best, if not THE best, front court in the league. The rare days that Carlos Boozer shows up makes the front court even better with improved offensive production. Nene and Marcin Gortat will provide a challenge for the duo, but it should be business as usual given the intensity these two play.

Wing: Chicago Bulls- I think Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster are solid role players, but they Wizards wings don’t really worry me that much. Meanwhile the Bulls have two very solid wings in Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Jimmy Butler. The former stretches the floor for Chicago and plays solid defense while the latter will not let you score and is still playing fairly well offensively despite dealing with turf toe all season.

Back Court: Washington Wizards- Augustin has been phenomenal this season and closes the gap between Chicago and Washington’s back courts, but this advantage goes to the Wizards by a mile. John Wall and Bradley Beal have been great this season and, given their speed and scoring proficiency, should prove to be a challenge for Kirk Hinrich and Augustin. Chicago should find it challenging to stay in front of both of these guys and it’ll take a team effort to limit the damage that these two can do.

Coaching: Chicago Bulls- If there is one coach in the NBA that can devise a system to stop Beal and Wall from exploiting Augustin’s below average defense and Hinrich’s slowed-with-age defense it’s Thibodeau. The man remains one of the best coaches in the league and should figure out a system to shut Beal and Wall down. Hats off to Wizards coach Randy Wittman because he’s done a great job with his team this year. But at the end of the day there is only one, maybe two, coaches you would pick ahead of Thibodeau.

X-Factor:

Chicago’s offense is still one of the ugliest in the league. It’s a pure dumpster fire. But things have improved a little bit since Augustin has emerged as a legitimate scoring option for the team. The only issue is that Augustin, for as good as he’s been, remains a streaky player who could either do well or end up hurting the team with inefficiency. Jason Patt of Blog-A-Bull said it best when he compared Augustin to Nate Robinson. If the good Augustin shows up then Chicago should win their games with a combination of his scoring ability and Noah’s excellent high-post work. If Augustin doesn’t perform then each game could be a battle.

Projected Starting Lineup:

Position

Chicago Bulls

Washington Wizards

C

 Joakim Noah

Marcin Gortat

PF

 Carlos Boozer

 Nene Hilario

SF

 Mike Dunleavy Jr

 Trevor Ariza

SG

 Jimmy Butler

 Bradley Beal

PG

 Kirk Hinrich

John Wall

 Schedule:

Game 1: Sunday, April 20 at Chicago, 6 p.m., TNT and CSN

Game 2: Tuesday, April 22 at Chicago, 8:30 p.m., TNT and CSN

Game 3: Friday, April 25 at Washington, 7 p.m., ESPN and CSN

Game 4: Sunday, April 27 at Washington, 12 p.m., ABC

Game 5*: Tuesday, April 29 at Chicago, TBD

Game 6*: Thursday, May 1 at Washington, TBD

Game 7*: Saturday, May 3 at Chicago, TBD, TNT and CSN

* if necessary

Prediction:

Chicago Bulls in 6 games

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