Chicago Bulls: Who Is Their Ideal Matchup in the First Round of the Playoffs?
The Eastern Conference playoff picture has already been set, as all eight Eastern Conference playoff spots have been clinched. Despite that, there is still a great deal of jostling for position left. Theoretically, the Chicago Bulls could fall anywhere between fourth and seventh place in the East.
That being said, Chicago is in a position where match-ups could determine its playoff fate. Depending on where the pieces fall, it could be in its best interests to fall in the standings in order to gain a better match-up.
New York Knicks
Even though the Knicks are rated as the highest seed of the potential opponents, New York may be the best matchup for Chicago to receive in the first round. The Bulls have won all three games against the Knicks this season, despite two being at Madison Square Garden.
Chicago matches up well against the Knicks. It can throw out two separate defenders who can take Carmelo Anthony in Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler. In the two games Melo appeared, he did score 68 points, but took 57 shots to get them.
Perhaps the best sign, however, is that Chicago showed that it could beat New York in a variety of different ways this season. In their first meeting, Chicago won behind a barrage of threes and by rebounding.
In the second matchup, Chicago outrebounded the Knicks by 11 and held them under 42-percent shooting from the field. In the third game, the Bulls won a shootout, where Luol Deng scored 33 and Chicago shot 57 percent from the field. No matter how the Knicks attack, Chicago has a defense.
The critical point is that the Bulls have been relatively healthy against the Knicks. The only players who have missed the games are Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton, who have been out of mind for much of the season.
However, in a playoff series, it is highly likely that Deng and Noah will play through any pain, and Gibson and Rose could potentially be back—depending on how their bodies react—which would cause New York all kinds of problems.
The Bulls play the Knicks on Thursday, April 11, which will be a nationally televised game on TNT. Chicago comes into the game heavily hindered by injuries, likely being without Rose, Deng, Gibson and Noah. New York is currently blazing hot on a thirteen game win streak, so this will be a test whether Chicago can truly find ways to win in a high pressure situation.
If Chicago falls to the No. 6 seed, it would face the Indiana Pacers in round one. The Bulls this season are merely 1-3 against the Pacers, but won the most recent game against them on March 23, 87-84.
If one thing is certain, it is that a series between the Pacers and Bulls will be the ultimate grind. The Pacers are ranked top in the league in defensive efficiency, and Chicago was in the top five for most of the season until injuries hurt its numbers. The Pacers and Bulls are second and third, respectively, in points allowed per game and are both in the bottom 10 in points scored per game.
As mentioned before, the Pacers beat the Bulls in the season series 3-1, but the margins were close. There was only one game decided by double figures on either side, and that was a game which Joakim Noah missed. Regardless of regular season meetings, these teams will fight hard and play close in the playoffs.
It is difficult to gauge how much we can read into any of these games, because both teams could be vastly different heading into the playoffs. We know for certain that Indiana forward Danny Granger is out for the season, which will free up Luol Deng to play defense on Paul George full time. However, there are many unknowns surrounding the Bulls due to their injuries.
A first-round series against the Pacers would be a dogfight, and it may not be in either team's best interests to have such a strenuous first-round series.
As things stand presently on April 10, Chicago is slated to play the fourth-seeded Brooklyn Nets in the first round. The Nets and Bulls met four times this season, and Chicago won three of the four meetings, including twice without Joakim Noah.
The Nets are an interesting team to play because there are some similarities between the two teams. The teams are led at the point guard position, but the best players on the floor right now might actually be at the center position, with Joakim Noah and Brook Lopez going against each other.
The key difference is that Chicago has one of the top defenses in the league, and that is what has set them apart in the regular season matchups.
In the regular season meetings, Chicago held Brooklyn to 93, 90, 85 and 82 points. In each matchup, the Bulls won through one of two distinct reasons: Rebounding or defense. In one of the meetings, Chicago held Brooklyn under 40-percent shooting from the field. In the other meeting, it outrebounded the Nets by 16.
In the only double-digit win among the four, Chicago did have an outlier where the it shot over 50 percent from the field, but that will not be typical heading into the playoffs.
The last meeting between the Bulls and Nets was an epic fourth-quarter comeback on April 4, and that was without Joakim Noah. If the Bulls and Nets meet in the playoffs, Chicago will likely have the upper hand, despite Brooklyn having the higher seed.
In an ideal world, the Bulls want to avoid Indiana early on. It is not an issue about whether the Bulls have the ability to beat the Pacers, because they do; it is simply that the Pacers would cause the most problems offensively.
The Knicks and Nets are both teams that Chicago has the ability to handle. The Bulls have high levels of success against both of the New York teams, and they have personnel that have caused both teams grief, whether it be Jimmy Butler against the Knicks, or the Bulls' frontcourt against the Nets.
As things stand, the Bulls will likely play Brooklyn in the four-versus-five series. This does not put them on an ideal side of the bracket, as they will have to play Miami in round two if they advance. However, a series against Brooklyn gives them the best chance to warm up and move on to the second round.
If Derrick Rose returns in the playoffs, Brooklyn would likely still be the ideal team to play. Rose has had tremendous success against Deron Williams in his career, and Brooklyn's post defense has generally been lacking relative to the Tyson Chandler-led Knicks and Roy Hibbert-led Pacers.
Regardless, the Brooklyn Nets are the best matchup for the Bulls heading into the playoffs.