It seems that every NBA Analyst has chimed in about the top seeded Bulls and their first round opponent in the NBA Playoffs. The general consensus appears to be that the Knicks would make for a much tougher matchup than the 76ers.
On the one hand, this makes sense. Carmelo Anthony has just been unconscious lately, hitting shots from all over the floor. He is one of the game's great closers. Then Tyson Chandler, probably the Defensive Player of the Year front-runner, has championship experience, and a toughness needed for playoff basketball. The Knicks just got Amare Stoudemire back into the fold and he played well against the Hawks securing a double-double.
Meanwhile, the 76ers have been inconsistent lately, struggling offensively and looking a bit gassed. It's understandable that the analysts would be saying the 76ers would be an easier opponent than the Knicks.
But they are wrong.
First of all, despite the recent struggles of the 76ers, they are still a better defensive team than the Knicks. They are 2nd in the league in points allowed, 13th in shot-blocking and 7th in rebounding.
Meanwhile, the Knicks are 10th, 26th and 17th, respectively in these categories. They will not pose nearly the defensive problem for the Bulls that the 76ers would.
Secondly, if you're Derrick Rose, you're looking for a first-round matchup that will allow you to play your game without expending a tremendous amount of effort on the defensive end. You certainly don't want to put too much pressure on that foot in the first round.
Who do you choose to cover?
Baron Davis, the Knicks current point guard who really has very little quickness and would be an easy defensive assignment for Rose; or Jrue Holiday, who is not as good as Rose, but will be a tough cover and make him work on defense. Face it, guarding Davis would expend no more effort than Rose's early morning cardio, while Holiday could cause problems for Rose while he's not 100 percent.
Thirdly, the 76ers will be a more physical team than the Knicks, which could also put more strain on the Bulls' battered All-Stars (including Luol Deng). A series against the Knicks would be more free-wheeling and offensive driven, while a series against the 76ers will be an ugly grind out. The Bulls should prefer the former.
Then there is coaching. Quiet as it's kept, Doug Collins is a terrific coach and certainly more accomplished than Mike Woodson (who has done a good job coaxing the Knicks to play a bit of defense). As Bulls fans should remember he coached the team to the conference finals back in 1989 and has done a great job of getting this only modestly-talented team to play together.
The Knicks still feel like a team that doesn't know who it is yet and is winning primarily because of Anthony's hot streak. I'm not convinced they are as tough and hard-nosed as the 76ers.
Additionally, the athleticism of the 76ers has given the Bulls problems at times this season. Chicago was 2-1 against both the 76ers and Knicks this season, and in both cases the games were generally close. But each of the 76ers games went down to the wire. The Bulls clearly had problems with Philly's defense and athleticism.
Finally, does the banged-up Bulls really want to play a tough physical team to prepare to face the equally physical but more talented Celtics? These could be two very taxing series and not the way to prepare to play the Miami Heat in the conference finals.
The 76ers can't beat the Bulls, and the series will be over before Game 7. But to simply dismiss Philadelphia as if the Knicks are a demonstrably better team, I think is unwise.