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How Chicago Bulls Match Up Against Every Potential Conference Playoff Opponent

Ernest ShepardAnalyst IIIApril 11, 2013

How Chicago Bulls Match Up Against Every Potential Conference Playoff Opponent

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    Time for exhibit some excitement, as the NBA playoffs are right around the corner. Who will the Chicago Bulls matchup with and how will they fare against them?

    You know who the playoff participants in the Eastern Conference are but the only one pairing is set. The eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks will look to avoid a sweep when they face the Miami Heat.

    That leaves the remaining three matchups undetermined. This includes all possible first-round opponents for the Bulls, who are in the midst of a battle with the Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics for seeds No. 4-7.

    Only five games remain for Chicago.

    With each victory, the Bulls can improve their slim chances at home-court advantage in the first round. However, every loss could potentially push them down the standings and into some troubled waters.

    How do they stand up to each conference rival and possible playoff rival?

     

    *Denotes that there is a game remaining against the opponent.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    Season Series: Tied 2-2

    Milwaukee has challenged the Bulls this year. It is one of nine teams the Bulls have scored on average at least 95 points per game against. The Bulls put up 96.3 points per game while giving up 92.8 against their NBA neighbors who play 90 miles north of the United Center.

    Although the Bulls can exploit Milwaukee’s defense, they struggle in other phases of the game.

    The speed of Bucks’ star guard Brandon Jennings keeps his Chicago adversaries on their heels.

    After a game against the Bucks, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau praised Jennings' abilities (via jsonline.com):

    Jennings is a great player. He could have a slow first half, and then all of a sudden it only takes one or two shots to get him going. He can explode on you, and he can have 20 in a quarter before you can blink an eye.

    Jennings scored just under 20 points a game in his four contests versus the Bulls, but he is not the only Bucks player who gave the Bulls fits.

    Forward Larry Sanders has a block party, swatting 3.7 blocks a game when he plays the Bulls.

    If healthy, the Bulls can get past a dangerous Bucks team, although facing them is an unlikely proposition.

Boston Celtics

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    Season Series: Tied 2-2

    This is not the same Boston Celtics team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals a season ago. Rajon Rondo is out with a torn ACL, Jordan Crawford has not had time to get accustomed to his teammates, while Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are a year older.

    Having Garnett and Pierce would usually be enough for the Celtics, but the playoffs are a grind. Can their bodies hold up?

    Versus the Bulls, they have a chance.

    Even without Rondo, the Celtics get amped up when they face Chicago. Their defense tightens and they do what it takes to come out on top.

    If the Bulls can return a couple of key players from their injuries (i.e. Derrick Rose), a series with Boston would not last longer than five games. 

Atlanta Hawks

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    Season Series: 2-1 Bulls

    Early in the season, the Atlanta Hawks demolished the Bulls 92-75. The Bulls responded with two easy wins.

    In the Bulls’ first victory, they held the Hawks to an NBA-record low of 58 points.

    A matchup with the Hawks would be the easiest among their other potential opponents.

    First off, the Hawks cannot get into an offensive rhythm when they play the Bulls. The 75.3 points per game Atlanta has scored is the lowest of any Bulls foe this year. Adding to Atlanta’s misery, it was a victim of 9.3 steals per game the Bulls averaged during the three games.

    Steals lead to easy baskets, and the Bulls have feasted on the Hawks this season.

    It is likely that Atlanta will finish with a No. 5 or No. 6 seed. The Bulls would capture the spot that the Hawks do not occupy.

    It is doubtful that the two teams will meet in the playoffs, but if they do, the Bulls can win it five.

Brooklyn Nets

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    Season Series: 3-1 Bulls

    The Brooklyn Nets versus Chicago Bulls pairing seems destined to happen. If so, grab some popcorn, some cotton candy and enjoy the show.

    Toss out the season series and its totals. You must also forget about what you know about both teams, as this matchup has the potential to be one of the best first-round series in some time.

    The Bulls’ only loss to the Nets, 93-89, happened when they played without Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. After overcoming a first quarter deficit, the Bulls took a lead into halftime, though they eventually relinquished it in the fourth quarter.

    The largest margin of victory for either team was 11 points. That was when the Bulls recently won 96-85 at the Barclays Center,

    Nets guard Deron Williams would love to prove the Bulls three wins in the regular season were a fluke.

    The Bulls would escape this series in six games.

Indiana Pacers

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    Season Series: 3-1 Pacers

    If both teams were healthy, this would be a great seven-game series. Unfortunately, there is so much uncertainty regarding injuries that fans will not get to see either team at full strength.

    We know that Indiana Pacers small forward Danny Granger will miss the remainder of the year, along with the playoffs.

    For the Bulls, it is likely that Derrick Rose will not make his return from knee surgery this year. Even if he does play at some point, the injuries to Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis), Taj Gibson (sprained MCL) and Richard Hamilton (back) would still have a lasting impression.

    Winning games during the season is one thing, but winning playoff games is something different. It requires a total team effort.

    The Pacers normally have a size advantage, yet against the Bulls, they do not.

    The other factor that works in the Bulls favor is that they have a few players who can make a game-winning shot. The Pacers only have one player for whom they diagram the final shot of the game: All-Star Paul George.

    Despite being able to match the Pacers’ size and having a couple of clutch performers under their belt, it would difficult for the Bulls to defeat the Pacers in a seven-game series. The Pacers have the home-court edge. Nevertheless, the Bulls could turn this into a seven-game masterpiece.

New York Knicks

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    Season Series: 3-0* Bulls

    Surprisingly, the Bulls match up well against the New York Knicks.  

    New York is primarily a jump-shooting team. If they can make their shots and superstar forward Carmelo Anthony is engaged in the game, the Knicks can defeat anybody. The problem is: You can only count on Anthony to have a good game.

    The Bulls like to take away every New York scoring option except for Anthony.

    Their game plan is to allow him to get his points while denying everyone else the ball.

    Another thing that the Bulls have going for them is the sudden emergence of Jimmy Butler. On the defensive end, Butler always makes Carmelo Anthony work hard for his points.

    The two teams meet once more before the playoffs begin, and Anthony will discover that he must guard Butler. The Marquette alum is averaging 16.6 points per game in April, and he is gaining confidence in his shot with each game.

    On paper, this would be a tantalizing playoff series. New York is great offensively, while Chicago is great defensively.

    If only Derrick Rose was guaranteed to play in the playoffs. With Rose, the Bulls would win in six games. Without Rose, the Knicks would win in seven.

Miami Heat

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    Season Series: 2-1* Bulls

    A meeting between the Heat and Bulls would only take place in the conference semi-finals or finals. While the Heat are expected to advance to the NBA Finals, several observers foresee the Bulls among the few teams that could challenge them.

    A potential series would become a classic case of strengths versus weaknesses.

    Miami is a small team that struggles with rebounding and interior defense.

    When the Bulls are at full-strength, they can throw Noah, Boozer and Taj Gibson at the Heat. Each player can rebound and score inside the paint, which forces Miami counter with an aging Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh.

    Neither Haslem nor Bosh are great post defenders, yet their shortcomings are covered up by the MVP play of LeBron James.

    If Haslem finds himself in foul trouble, LeBron switches over to the power forward spot. When Bosh falters on his defensive assignments, LeBron picks up the slack as a help defender.

    You have to disregard the season series if these two teams meet in the playoffs. It will come down to the Chicago Bulls against the will of LeBron James.

    With Rose in the lineup, the Bulls could take the series in seven. The Bulls have a definite size advantage, and they can throw a wave of defenders at LeBron, Chicago-native Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. If Rose does not play, the Bulls could muster two wins.

    Miami wins in six.

The Return of Rose Would Change Everything

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    Despite their injuries woes and struggles this season, the Bulls have a remarkable record of 15-10 against the teams that have made the Eastern Conference playoffs.

    The year has become full of “what-if” scenarios.

    What if Derrick Rose resumes his basketball duties before the season ends? Even at 75 percent, Rose on the court improves the Bulls playoff chances immensely.

    What if pairing him up with Jimmy Butler gives the Bulls backcourt elements of athleticism, defense and scoring? In addition to aiding the starting lineup, Rose elevates the team’s overall depth, as well as several options in the rotation.

    What if he can play alongside Nate Robinson, a player who can create shots for himself as well as others? It would give Rose the chance to play with an offensive-minded guard.

    With Kirk Hinrich sharing backcourt duties, what if Rose can play with the ball or off the ball, allowing him to get open for jump shots?

    Derrick Rose would be able to fit great with any lineup that Thibodeau uses.

    The complexity of the postseason weighs on the health of Rose.

    Obviously, how the Bulls match up with each playoff team would change. I am not alone in hoping that he returns.     

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