The Chicago Bulls will surely be a tough out during the postseason. What’s the perfect recipe to beat these guys?
Despite being without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, Chicago impressively owns the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference. Obviously, you can never count out a team that's coached by Tom Thibodeau and possesses a defense anchored by Joakim Noah.
Last year, the Bulls reached the second round of the playoffs without the injured Rose. And don't expect things to be any different this year, as they can beat anybody in the conference other than the Miami Heat and possibly the Indiana Pacers.
One way to knock off Chicago is containing D.J. Augustin. Nate Robinson was the team's spark plug a year ago, and now Augustin is the guy this season. The 6'0" point guard can come off the bench and burn you for 25 points, sprinting to the basket for layups and drilling a swarm of long-range bombs.
What are some other steps to beating this group in the 2014 playoffs?
Keep Them Off the Glass
One thing the Bulls know how to do is crash the boards. Their total rebound average of 44.8 ranks ninth in the league. They're 10th in offensive rebounding (11.8 per game) and eighth on the defensive end (33 per game).
The team's big man trio of Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson are all superb glass cleaners. Noah is the league's sixth-best rebounder, pulling down 11.3 per contest.
On March 9, Chicago picked up an impressive 95-88 overtime win over LeBron James and the Heat. Offensive rebounding played a huge role in the victory, as Chicago edged Miami 13-6.
Hitting the offensive glass, of course, means more opportunities to score. And the Bulls took advantage, producing 27 second-chance points.
Following the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had this to say, per The Sports Xchange (via Yahoo Sports): "It came down to possessions. Their second-chance opportunities, they pummeled us. Not only did they get offensive rebounds, but every single time they got one they scored. Thirteen (offensive boards), that number isn't totally outrageous, but the 27 (second-chance points) is."
Any playoff opponent that faces Chicago needs to add the words “get inside position and box out” to their scouting report. You don’t want to get burned like the Heat did (no pun intended).
Shut Down Joakim Noah's Passing Lanes
Noah is having an incredible season, showcasing his all-around skills. He can rebound, block shots and even hit the occasional mid-range jumper. What stands out the most, though, is his ability to pass the rock.
The two-time All-Star is dishing out five assists per game. Yes, you read that right. Five assists is absolutely outstanding for a center. Everybody has heard of the term “point forward.” Noah is Chicago’s point center.
SB Nation's Mike Prada did some nice research:
Simply put, Noah's passing is the Bulls' offense. The Bulls are nearly seven points better per 100 possessions with Noah in the game, going from a respectable unit to the worst in the league when he sits. Noah himself is assisting on nearly 24 percent of the Bulls' possessions when he's in the game, per Basketball Reference. That's the highest mark for a center since Vlade Divac in 2003-04.
This season, Noah has five double-digit-assist games, including a whopping 14 vs. the New York Knicks (part of a triple–double).
Noah, often positioned in the high post, can drive defenses crazy as he continuously makes perfect passes to his cutting teammates.
A good way to stop Chicago is shutting down the passing lanes and not allowing Noah to play like a 6’11” John Stockton.
Carve Up Their Defense
The Bulls are the league’s worst scoring team, averaging just 93.4 points per game.
But although they struggle to put the ball in the hoop, their defense is truly elite. They allow only 92.3 points per contest, which is second-fewest behind the Pacers.
It’s easy to see why Chicago is one of the top defensive teams on the planet. Noah and Gibson play stellar interior defense, while the Jimmy Butler/Kirk Hinrich combo can lock opposing scorers down on the perimeter.
The Rose-and-Deng-less Bulls own a winning record due to their suffocating defense and obviously not because of their scoring or lack thereof. But that defense can get carved up at times, just ask the Washington Wizards’ John Wall.
This season against the Bulls, Wall is averaging 21 points and nine assists while shooting 51.7 percent from the field. And as a result, his Wizards are a perfect 2-0 vs. Chicago.
It’s quite possible the Bulls could face Wall and Co. during the first round of the playoffs. In that case, it could mean an early exit, if the All-Star point guard proves to be unstoppable.
All stats are from Basketball-Reference.com and accurate as of March 19, 2014.