One of the more intriguing playoff series will kick off Saturday night when the Brooklyn Nets welcome the Chicago Bulls to town for their first-round game.
Both teams finished the regular season with strong campaigns behind them, and have shown throughout the year to be genuine challengers in the East—something they'll be looking to show once more with a first-round victory.
At their best, both teams can be explosive on offense, but the Nets will no doubt carry the advantage in that regard. Chicago, on the other hand, will hold the advantage on defense—making this one a very intriguing postseason series indeed.
For either team to win the series, it's no doubt going to come down to the individual matchups right across the court—and that starts with Game 1 on Saturday night. Read on to see the top matchups that will define this contest, and which players will give their team a key advantage.
Brook Lopez vs. Joakim Noah
For that to happen, the Bulls must contain the inside presence of Brook Lopez—who has been truly dominant this season—and that responsibility will no doubt fall to the defense specialist in Joakim Noah, who has also been very strong for his respective franchise this year.
Lopez has been a beast with his back to the basket this year, and leads all centers in Player Efficiency Rating. What's more, he's found a great combination with Deron Williams going forward, and will no doubt be looked to often in this one to get the Nets' offense on a roll.
Noah has the potential to limit the impact of Lopez and force the Nets to look elsewhere, but the biggest question remains as to whether he'll even take the court—listed as questionable via Fox News, with Tom Thibodeau reportedly unwilling to play Noah unless he is 100 percent.
His absence could well open the door the Lopez and the Nets offense, much like his presence could well limit their impact inside the key.
That's how important Noah will be throughout the series and his possible absence will give Lopez a key advantage for the Nets in Game 1.
Game 1 Advantage: Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets
Carlos Boozer vs. Reggie Evans
With Rose out and Noah questionable, Carlos Boozer is going to have a huge role to play against the Nets on Saturday night, though he should have a favorable advantage against Reggie Evans.
Boozer was seemingly unstoppable when the Bulls played the Nets earlier in the year, with Evans' lack of athleticism and reach playing into the forwards' strengths. It also allowed the Nets to hide Boozer somewhat when the Nets take the ball forward, and they'll no doubt look to do the same to their star forward in Game 1 this weekend..
Boozer had 29 points and 18 rebounds against the Nets when they met earlier in the year, and is averaging a full five points more against the Nets than he is on his season average. If he can get good looks early and knock down an early shot or two, Boozer might just find some momentum going forward and cause havoc for the Nets' defense all night.
Evans has been strong this season, but is at a serious disadvantage against Boozer—especially if both Noah and Rose are sidelined for the Bulls.
Game 1 Advantage: Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls
Deron Williams vs. Nate Robinson
Deron Williams' ability to get going in this one will no doubt be the key for Brooklyn throughout the series, with the star guard possessing the ability to shoot them in (and out) of the second-round.
The three-time All-Star has been a powerhouse on offense, but if the Bulls can force him into doing a lot of work defensively and taking some poor shots when they do move the ball forward, then Chicago stand a real chance of winning on the road here.
For that to happen, the Bulls must get the best out of Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich, with Robinson in particular a definite X-factor to watch this series.
Robinson has been well below his season averages in both points and assists against the Nets this year, and the Bulls will definitely need a big game from him here if they're to stop D-Will—moving the ball well in transition and taking good, early looks if they're open.
The star guard chalked up 35 points the other week against the Knicks, so it definitely is possible. The only question remains whether he'll be able to get it done whilst work hard on defense as well, with Williams unlikely to slow down at any point in this one.
I'd say Williams has the edge, but Robinson could well be the difference-maker throughout the series.
Game 1 Advantage: Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets
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