With the NBA season on a downswing and the playoffs in sight, it's time to start predicting. What matchups will feature an upset? What series will end in four games, and which ones will go to seven? But most important for Bulls fans, how will they do in the playoffs?
Thanks to ESPN's Playoff Simulation, we have a way to guess how the season will finish.
To start off, this matchup is created by ESPN's prediction of the final record of each team. The Bulls right now are predicted to be the number one seed, in part because of their recent play and the Celtics recent slump. As the number one seed, the Bulls will play the number eight seed in the Indiana Pacers.
This matchup shouldn't be too much of a struggle for the Bulls, as they come in ready to make a run throughout the playoffs. In Thibodeau's first series as a head coach, he will have the Bulls ready to make a stand, and Derrick Rose will able to score almost at will against this team.
With Joakim Noah shutting down Roy Hibbert and Luol Deng on Danny Granger, Indiana's higher end players are taken out of the equation, and the Bulls coast to an easy series. At the worst, this series will go in five games to the Bulls.
In this round the Bulls will play the Magic or the Hawks, again based on ESPN's projection of the final record of all teams. However, this is a feasible matchup in the playoffs for the Bulls. While Bulls' fans would hope to play the Hawks, which the Bulls would be able to beat in a series, the much more likely scenario is Dwight Howard and the Magic come to the United Center.
If the Hawks are the team, the Bulls should be able to win easily. The highest paid player from the summer of LeBron (Joe Johnson) finally has age catching up to him, as his numbers are down. Throw in the defensive abilities of lengthy 6'7" Ronnie Brewer, and Johnson should become a non-factor. With Joakim Noah manning the paint, and Omer Asik coming off the bench, Josh Smith and Al Horford won't be able to exploit the Bulls. At the very worst, the Hawks take two games and this series goes to six games.
If the Magic are the team, a much bigger problem arises called Superman, AKA Dwight Howard. The guy is simply a beast. My brother saw him in person and said his arms were the size of my brother's head. Let's face it, Noah is a great center, leader of the team, emotional and energetic.
But he is not the best center in the league. Dwight is, and will go for 25+ points in a game against Noah, and the Magic has the shooters behind the arc to make the Bulls pay if the team collapses on Howard. As a result, the Magic are a matchup nightmare, but the Bulls, led by MVP Derrick Rose and COY Tom Thibodeau, should be able to win. However, this matchup could conceivably go seven games.
There are more than two possible teams for the Bulls to play in this round, such as the '76ers and the Knicks. But I doubt either team would make it past the Celtics or Heat.
If the Bulls play the Celtics, a very interesting matchup arises. The Bulls/Celtics always have great playoff series, especially the one from a few years ago. Only this time Tom Thibodeau is on the Bulls' bench. And that, coupled with how his team is playing, might be enough to get past the Celts.
The Celtics have three future Hall of Famers on their team, and an extremely overrated point guard who has made a living off throwing the ball to those three. Keith Bogans could probably average 10 assists a night when throwing the passes to Ray Allen/KG/Paul Pierce.
Thankfully, the Celtics traded away their advantage in size in Kendrick Perkins away, leaving the Bulls the chance to exploit the Celts in the post. Sure, KG was once a great defender, but now he is much older and can't chase people around as well as he used to. Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer should have a field day and each score 15+ a game in this series. Again, the Bulls can win, but it will be in at least six or seven games.
Ah, the Heat. Personally, I hope the Bulls play the Heat, beat them in four games, and then LeBron gets all teared up. That would be a dream come true. But then again, it's just a dream. The Heat do present problems with their Big Three, but three players is all they have. Sure the Heat have expensive role players in Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem, but they won't make enough of an impact. With Luol on Lebron, Joakim roughing up the soft Chris Bosh, and Ronnie Brewer on Wade, the Bulls could win this series in six or seven
This writer certainly realizes that there are eight other West teams in the playoffs. But if NBA fans have learned anything over the past two decades, when the playoffs come, don't bet against Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant. This would be a fantastic series, with one team led by a veteran superstar and another led by an young, up-and-coming superstar.
Bulls: Derrick Rose. Outstanding point guard with a lightening quick first step and the probable MVP.
Lakers: Kobe Bryant. He's done it all and then some, one of the greatest of all time
Advantage: Lakers. Kobe's experience is something the Bulls simply can't contend with
Surrounding players and bench:
Bulls: Have solid players in Luol, Joakim and Carlos and a deep bench
Lakers: Have many quality players, especially Gasol.
Advantage: Bulls. The Lakers' age of many of their players gives the Bulls this advantage.
Bulls: Tom Thibodeau. Outstanding first year coach
Lakers: Phil Jackson. One of the all-time greats
Advantage: Lakers. Thibodeau is great, but he's no Phil
Bulls: Legacy of MJ and being the first Bulls team to win a Championship since he played.
Lakers: Working on another three-peat
Advantage: Lakers. The drive to accomplish a three-peat is solely what is driving Kobe and Phil.
And the winner is...
The Lakers. As good as the Bulls are this season, the team is young and has a gap at starting shooting guard. This is a huge improvement, and the pieces are there, but this is not the Bulls season to win it all.