The mystery is over.
The Bulls will face the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
I plan to publish my full Hawks-Bulls preview this weekend.
For now, a few thoughts:
First things first. By the Horns reader inkybreath asked: “Am I missing something … did Orlando have any business losing to the Hawks?”
Well, if anything, the Hawks-Magic series proved beyond doubt what many people either suspected or believed was true: That Orlando has surrounded Dwight Howard with a deeply flawed supporting cast. Gilbert Arenas is finished as an elite player. Hedo Turkoglu isn’t the same player for the Magic that he was during their run to the 2009 NBA Finals. Jameer Nelson is scrappy but small and limited. Nobody other than Howard plays defense. They don’t have a true backup center.
So on and so forth.
That said, Orlando lost Games 3, 4 and 6 by a combined total of 10 points. The Magic were beaten (more or less) by an unintentionally banked three-pointer by Jamal Crawford in Game 3. Jason Richardson was suspended for Game 4. What’s more, after shooting 36.6 percent from three-point range during the regular season, the Magic converted only 26 percent of their threes against the Hawks. If they hit their normal percentage of threes, they probably win those three close games. If J.J. Redick — a 39.7 percent three-point shooter — knocks down a wide open three in the closing seconds of last night’s game, the Magic would have forced overtime.
I guess what I’m saying is, while it’s not totally surprising that a flawed Orlando team got upset, there are also some extenuating circumstances.
And now the Bulls have to face the Hawks.
The Hawks won 44 games during the regular season, but they weren’t an overpowering anybody, no matter how you look at it. They ranked 13th in Defensive Rating (107.0) and 20th in Offensive Rating (106.1). They ranked 17th and 18th, respectively, in the Basketball-Reference Simple Rating System (-1.10) and Expected W-L (39-43) metrics.
Furthermore, according to Hoopdata, the Hawks rank 30th in field goal attempts at the rim (20.0) and second in shot attempts from 16-23 feet (23.6). But even though they like long jumpers, they rank only 16th in three-point attempts (17.4). Furthermore, they convert only 35.2 percent of their threes, which ranks 18th league-wide.
My point is this: The Hawks don’t get a lot of high percentage shot attempts in the immediate vicinity of the basket. They’re a jump shooting team. This explains (in large part) why they rank 29th in free throw attempts (1728) and 27th in Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt (.209).
Why are these factors important? Because the Bulls are a great defensive team. Historically speaking, great defensive teams usually have a lot of luck against jump shooting teams.
I’m not trying to be dismissive of the Hawks. Far from it. Atlanta has several talented and athletic players.
But there is nothing the Hawks do on offense that the Bulls can’t stop.
The real question is: Have the Bulls solved their own offensive woes from the first round? I’m more worried about what the Bulls are doing than what the Hawks are going to do against them. How’s Derrick Rose’s ankle? And Boozer’s toe? Can Tom Thibodeau diversify the offense and minimize the team’s all-out reliance on Rose?
More this weekend.