Chicago Bulls vs. Atlanta Hawks Preview

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2011

Chicago Bulls vs. Atlanta Hawks Preview

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    CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 27:  Josh Smith #5 and Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks reach for a rebound against Chris Duhon #21 and Luol Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on November 27, 2007 in Chicago, Illinois.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly a
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Hawks interrupted the plans of Jameer Nelson and will be seeing Derrick Rose sooner than Nelson and his Magic teammates.

    Atlanta and Chicago will bring a completely different look and feel than either team had in their first round, or than an Orlando vs. Chicago series would bring.

    Here we'll take a look at each of the different matchups and consider what kind of series we might expect, the individual matchups and who the eventual winner might be.  

Season Series

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    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls drives against Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks at the United Center on March 11, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Hawks 94-76. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    In the season series with the exception of one bad second half  Chicago pretty much owned Atlanta.

    They lost the first game by three, but won the second and third games by a total of 51 points. It's doubtful that the postseason wins are going to come that easily though. Still, that kind of disparity does bode well for Chicago. 

    Having said that Atlanta is a team that might have the biggest chip on its shoulder of any team still in the playoffs. They were written off as even having a chance against the Magic and they responded to that by sending Orlando packing.

    Here's a look at what their three games looked like. 

    Category Chicago Atlanta
    Points 96 80
    Rebounds 44.3 30.3
    Assists 27.0 19.0
    Field Goal % 47.0 42.7
    3 Point 19.3 10.7
    3 Point % 36.2 46.9
    Free Throws 21.3 18.7
    Off Rtg 110.28 92.44
    Def Rtg 92.44 110.28

    It's easy to see from that why it was two blowouts and why Chicago has the upper hand in this series.

    The only thing that Atlanta did better was their three point percentage and since Chicago has the best three-point percentage allowed in the league, and that Atlanta shoots 35 percent from the three normally, that's probably the anomaly most likely to change.  

    Overall Advantage: Decisively to the Bulls

Shooting Analysis

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    CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 26: Carlos Boozer #5 of the Chicago Bulls takes a shot against the Indiana Pacers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on April 26, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defe
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Chicago Strength

    The Bulls biggest strength in scoring has come at the rim. In the restricted area on the series they've made 50 of 74 attempts for 68 percent shooting.

    That could be a good indication for Carlos Boozer, who struggled in the Indiana series. It should be mentioned though that in one game Al Horfrod, Atlanta's most elite defender, was out. 


    Chicago Weakness

    In the paint outside the restricted area the Bulls are only 6-23, 35 percent, which is about four percent off their regular season average. From the corner three they are also a bit down, hitting 5 of 16 for 31 percent, which is seven percent below their season average.

    Neither of those is much of a sample size so  it's hard to say how much to read into it. However, those are the only areas where they are below their season average.  


    Atlanta Strength 

    As previously mentioned, they have done well from the three, hitting 42 percent (8 of 19) from above the break. They've also hit 7 of 13 for 54 percent from the corner. 

    Atlanta Weakness

    The Hawks have struggled egregiously in the paint against Chicago, scoring on only 39 of their 92 field goal attempts for 42 percent in the paint. In the restricted area they hit only 52 percent of their field goal attempts.

    The Hawks just don't have the bigs to compete with Chicago, unlike Orlando, Chicago has the ability to penetrate so the same strategy employed against Orlando won't work against Chicago.

    As you'll see, the Bulls have protected the paint much better than Atlanta and forced Atlanta to take the majority of their shots from the long two while they've been able to make a living in the paint.

    Unlike the Magic, that's not one player doing all the damage there and a bunch of three point shooters, so the same defensive strategy isn't going to work. 

    Shooting Advantage: Solidly to the Bulls


Point Guard: Derrick Rose vs. Kirk Hinrich

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    ORLANDO, FL - APRIL 26:  J.J. Redick #7 of the Orlando Magic is fouled by Kirk Hinrich #6 of the Atlanta Hawks on a three point shot during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 26, 2011 at the Amway Arena in
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Hinrich has been one of the better defensive point guards in the NBA, but he's not going to be able to slow down Derrick Rose, particularly with an ailing knee.

    However, Atlanta's best chance is with Captain Kirk in the lineup so I'm going to assume for preview purposes that he's playing. 

    Here's what they've donein the regular season. All stats listed in this article are  based on per 36 minutes.  

    Player Points Rebounds Assists Field Goal% +/- D Rtg
    Derrick Rose  24.1 3.9 7.4 45% +5.9 103
    Kirk Hinrich 12.3 3.0 4.8 45% -6.4 109

    As you can see on the whole, Rose outplays Hinrich. 

    Looking at what they do against one another directly here's the numbers when they are both on the court while the teams play against one another.  

    Player Points Rebounds Assists Field Goal% +/- D Rtg
    Derrick Rose  26.2 5.4 7.3 42% +12.4 87.34
    Kirk Hinrich 8.8 2..1 5.7 39% -12.4

    Rose is able to get past Hinrich, as 21 of the 34 field goals he's made have come in the restricted area. In order for Atlanta to have success, they are going to need to be able to do something to slow Rose down. Of course if teams knew how to do that, it would have been done. 

    Atlanta does have some pretty good length with four players, Al Horford, Zaza Pachula, Hilton Armstrong and Jason Collins who are 6' 10" or taller so they might be able to employ a similar strategy that Indiana did. However, if Game 5 was any indication, then Chicago solved that problem. 

    Hinrich hasn't really presented many problems for the Bulls so far. His scoring mainly has come from the long two area, where he's hit 39 percent of his 18 shots against Rose and accounts for only 14 percent of his team's scoring while Rose is on the floor.

    Essentially if a team is going to try and beat you from long twos, you'll take that as in the end, it's a failed strategy. 

    Point Guard Advantage: Decisively Chicago

Shooting Guard: Keith Bogans vs. Joe Johnson

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    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: Joe Johnson #2 of the Atlanta Hawks moves against Kurt Thomas #40 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on March 11, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or us
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    This is the critical matchup for Atlanta, as Joe Johnson is their biggest star. Keith Bogans is the Bulls weakest starter, at least offensively speaking. Here's their season stats.

    Player Points Rebounds Assists Field Goal% +/- Def Rtg
    Keith Bogans 8.8 3.6 2.5 40% +4.1 103
    Joe Johnson 18.5 4.1 4.8 44% +1.2 110

    No surprises here, Johnson puts up better offensive numbers, Bogans better defensive numbers. The fact that Bogans has a higher +/- isn't that surprising considering the blowouts. Let's take a look at how they do when they are both on the court. Again, keep in mind these are per 36 minute stats.

    Player Points Rebounds Assists Field Goal% +/- D Rtg
    Keith Bogans 9.0 2.6 1.9 71% 18.0 85.32
    Joe Johnson 9.0 4.8 5.1 32% -18.0 115.05

    This is a bit startling. There's nothing to conclude form this except that Bogans defends Joe Johnson very well. That's why I say this is a critical matchup for Atlanta. Bogans is playing two more minutes per game in the postseason so far and with that kind of defense on Johnson, that could go up more.

    When Bogans is on the court, Jonson scores 13 percent of Atlanta's points, when he's on the Bench and Johnson is not, Johnson scores 27 percent of the Hawks points. More Bogans means less scoring from Johnson. That does not bode well for Atlanta.

    There hasn't been enough shooting by Bogans to do much shooting analysis. With Johnson, his only area where he's above his average against Bogans is threes above the break, where he hit on his one attempt. Bogans made five shots on seven attempts. Bogans made one more on 12 more attempts. 

    In order to win Atlanta needs to figure out how to solve Bogans and create shots for Johnson.

    Shooting Guard Advantage: Solidly Atlanta

Small Forward: Luol Deng vs. Josh Smith

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    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: Loul Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls puts up a shot over Joe Johnson #2 of the Atlanta Hawks at the United Center on March 11, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Hawks 94-76. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges an
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    This could be the most entertaining matchup. Deng and Smith are similar in  that they are both players who are good but not great offensively and great, not good defensively.

    In fact you could say that they are the two best small forwards in the NBA to never make the All-Star game. 

    Player Points Rebounds Assists Field Goal% +/- Def Rtg
    Luol Deng 16.1 5.3 2.6 46% +5.8 102
    Josh Smith 17.3 4.1 4.8 44% +1.0 102

    At least in these categories Deng has the edge in three of six areas while Smith has the edge in two, though Smith does have more bocks and steals. Probably the biggest difference is at least against one another Deng's defense has more impact on the game.

    Here's how they look when they are on the court together. 

    Player Points Rebounds Assists Field Goal% +/- D Rtg
    Luol Deng 20.4 6.8 2.7 53% +29.2 88.71
    Josh Smith 17.0 4.1 2.0 35% -29.2 120.73

    The Bulls are 32 points better defensively than Atlanta when Deng and Smith are on the court. That's huge. 

    When they have both been on the court "Glue-All" makes things rough for "J-Smoove." He's outplayed him in virtually every aspect of the game. A plus 29.2 per 36 minutes is nothing to sneeze at, that's pure dominance right there. It's also not likely to be maintained to that level, but it's enough to cause concern for the Hawks. 

    The trend of scoring at the rim continues with this matchup, as Deng scored 83 percent from the rim against Smith. Overall he's 11 of 14 from the paint. He did struggle from the corner three, only going one for six. That's normally his favorite spot.

    Smith is longer than he is so that could be a frustration to the Bulls in a series. Taking away the corner three from Deng could help to decrease floor spacing and that caused problems for the Bulls against the Pacers. 

    Smith also did most of his damage in the paint, going 7-9 from there. However, outside the paint was not good for him as he was only 3 for 16 and took most of his shots again from the long two area. It's another matchup where the Bulls are getting their attempts at the rim, and the Hawks are getting their attempts from long twos. That's a big advantage to the Bulls. 

    Small Forward Advantage: Slight edge, Chicago Bulls


Power Forward: Carlos Boozer vs. Al Horford

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    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: Kurt Thomas #40 of the Chicago Bulls defends against Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks at the United Center on March 11, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Hawks 94-76. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    This is probably the most critical matchup for the Bulls. Boozer is not a great defensive player, scratch that. He's not a good defensive player.

    Scratch that, he's not an average defensive player. Horford is the one player on Atlanta that could potentially manage a mismatch. Look for his old Florida teammate to come and offer a lot of help defense though. 

    Here's there regular season stats.

    Player Points Rebounds Assists Field Goal% +/- Def Rtg
    Carlos Boozer 19.8 10.8 2.8 51% +5.3 99
    Al Horford 15.7 9.6 3.5 56% +0.6 105

    On the whole, first you can see what Boozer can mean to the Bulls when he's playing well. The problem here is  that he struggles against long competition and Horford is long. As a result he's dominated the personal matchup. Here's what they've done against each other on the court this year. 

    Player Points Rebounds Assists Field Goal% +/- Def Rtg
    Carlos Boozer 10.9 6.4 2.8 42% +16.1 95.57
    Al Horford 22.5 9.6 2.6 75% -16.1 112.49

    Don't let the defensive rating and plus/minus numbers fool you Those are clearly a result of the rest of the team dominating Atlanta. Horford has dominated Boozer on both ends. Most of that damage came in the first game though. 

    More important than the Bulls winning in some ways is getting Carlos Boozer established in the playoffs, and Horford is going to make that difficult. It's not impossible for the Bulls to do that though. 

    With  the potential for the Bulls to penetrate Horford is likely to be needed in a lot of help defense and that could leave Boozer matched up against Jason Collins, who, while longer isn't going to defend Boozer's post up game nearly as well. 

    Boozer has shot 71 percent in the restricted area against Atlanta, so if they can work the ball into him he can score. It's just a matter of getting the ball to him.

    On the other side Atlanta needs to get the ball to Horford. Horford has scored well from everywhere against Boozer, hitting 7 of 10 from the paint and 7-9 from midrange. He accounts for 37 percent of Atlanta's scoring while Boozer is on the court. 

    To defend Horford, Chicago is going to have to extend past Boozer. Joakim Noah really started to return to his former self in the last two games against Indiana, and that should make a tremendous difference defensively.  

    Also expect to see Kurt Thomas more this series as Thomas has defended Horford very well, holding him to just 7.8 points and 40 percent shooting per 36 minutes. Defending Horford will be a committee job, but it is doable. 

    The problem with that is that if they're defending Horford by committee, Boozer is not likely to be part of the committee, and the Bulls won't be able to establish Boozer if he's on the bench. 

    Power Forward Advantage: Solid Advantage Atlanta Hawks

Center: Joakim Noah vs. Jason Collins

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    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls drives against Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks at the United Center on March 11, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Hawks 94-76. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The key here is that Noah is back to being Noah. For Chicago, losing Game 4 was a plus because that resulted in Game 5. Chicago got tougher because Noah got tougher. Rose might be the will of the team but Noah is the soul.

    Game 5 was the first time that Noah has been "Noahesque" since the thumb injury and that's going to be key in the next series.

    Here's a look at the season stats. Bear in mind these are per 36 minutes.  

    Player Points Rebounds Assists Field Goal% +/- Def Rtg
    Joakim Noah 12.8 11.4 2.4 53% +4.1 97
    Jason Collins 5.8 6.2 1.3 48% +5.5 108

    Based on season stats you can see this is a huge advantage for the Bulls. Joakim is just a better player all the way around. He's a better scorer, a better rebounder, a better passer, a better shooter and a better defensive player. He's not just a little better, he's a lot better. He's enough better to help Boozer on Horford.

    Just in case you think I'm overstating it though, look at how they do against one another. There's just 17 minutes where they were on  the court together but it's enough to give us a picture.

    Player Points Rebounds Assists Field Goal% +/- Def Rtg
    Joakim Noah 10.6 12.7 4.2 67% +8.5 87.55
    Jason Collins 0.0 0.0 2.1 No FGA -8.5 99.24

    Collins just doesn't offer much resistance to Noah. Defensively Noah should be free to roam and provide help defense against Horford or any penetration off the dribble. Offensively look for him to dominate the boards and get lots of second chance points. 

    One other thing worth mentioning is that Collins averages 6.9 personal fouls per 36 minutes against Noah, which means he's going to be getting limited playing time. That will limit the Hawks' opportunity to take advantage of the Boozer matchup. 

    As far as shot analysis there's not enough shooting to really analyze much. Noah will do what he does and get a lot of second chance points and score off pure hustle. They may run some plays through him though to get Horford away from Noah and take advantage of the mismatch. 

    Center Advantage: Decisive advantage, Chicago Bulls


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    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: Jamal Crawford #11 of the Atlanta Hawks passes the ball surrounded by (L-R)  Kurt Thomas #40, Derrick Rose #1, Loul Deng #9 and Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on March 11, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The B
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Chicago Bulls

    Taj Gibson: Taj has played very well against Atlanta scoring an average of 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds per 36 minutes of play. His  defensive rating, 102, has been a bit higher than the other Bulls against Atlanta, though it's probably not on him as he's one of the better defenders on the team. at 102. Gibson will be key if Boozer either gets dominated by Horford or gets in foul trouble.  

    Kyle Korver: Korver has become an essential part of the Bulls fourth quarter offense as his long range shooting opens up the floor for Rose and demands to be respected. His eFG percentage against Atlanta this year is .645. 

    Kurt Thomas: As mentioned previously, Thomas is the Horford stopper. In the 45 minutes he's spent on the court against Atlanta they've eked out a meager 72.91 points per 100 possessions. That's just cold stopper number right there. 

    Ronnie Brewer: Brewer saw only 12.6 minutes per game in the series against Indiana. It remains to be seen whether his minutes will continue to be limited or if that has more to do with the matchup. Brewer was not particularly effective on offense or defense against Atlanta this year so he may not see extended minutes this series either.

    Atlanta Hawks

    Jamal Crawford: Probably the best offensive player off the bench for either team. However against the Bulls he only scored 11 points per 36 minutes. For Atlanta to have a shot against the Bulls they are going to need more from him. 

    Marvin Williams: Williams started the three games against the Bulls but only scored 11 points per 36 minutes. 

    ZaZa Pachulia: The closest thing the Hawks have to a goon. If the Hawks try and employ the Pacers strategy you might see some hard fouls from ZaZa. You won't see much more from him though. 

    Overall the Bulls bench won the efficiency recap battle by 44 points in the three games. Atlanta has the best bench player in Crawford, but Chicago has the better bench. 

    Bench Advantage: Slight advantage Chicago Bulls. 

Conclusion and Predictions

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    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls drives to the basket between Kirk Hinrich #6 and Damien Wilkins #3 of the Atlanta Hawks at the United Center on March 11, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Hawks 94-76. NOTE TO U
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Some of what happens will depend on whether Hinrich is around, but that won't be the difference between Atlanta winning and losing.

    At best it will be the difference between getting swept and not getting swept. At best, Atlanta will extend the series to six games. 

    Chicago has lost only five games since Feb 9 while winning 32-5. Even when they've been played tight they tend to pull out the grinding games.

    Atlanta on the other hand has lost five games since April 9, and the only ones they've won are the four playoff games against Orlando. Of course those are the important ones. They are 12-16 since Feb 27. 

    Atlanta and Chicago are the two best teams this year in games decided by five points or less, so if it comes to grinding out a win, it should be very interesting and the advantage probably goes to the home team.

    On the other side of the spectrum Chicago won 32 games by double digits, third most in the NBA while Atlanta was blown out 22 times, most of any team playoff team. If Chicago builds an early lead it's unlikely that Atlanta will come back.(Unlikely doesn't mean impossible though. Atlanta did comeback against Chicago this year after trailing by 17 at the half.)

    Chicago has the better starting five, the better bench, the better coach and the best player on the court. On top of that they have outplayed Atlanta in the regular season, and unlike Indiana (who they did win 4-1 by the way, some act as though they barely won the series) Atlanta's not a very good defensive team.

    In terms of matchups it's hard to see where Atlanta can really exploit Chicago. There biggest mismatch is Joe Johnson, but Johnson's strength is perimeter shooting (only 19 percent of his field goals are in the paint) and Chicago is so good and limiting good shots.

    Meanwhile Chicago's biggest strength is Derrick Rose, and there''s really no Rose-stopper on the Hawks. If they use Hoford in help defense he'll get in early foul trouble and open up the possibility for Boozer to get going.

    We know that prayer won't work either. Michael Jordan is proof that God is a Bulls' fan. 

    The one chance they really have is that Chicago comes out flat. They are actually worse,-3.7 efficiency differential on three days plus of rest. They've gone just 2-4 in those games. The thing is Atlanta tend to get flat as well and are 3-5 on extended rest with an efficiency differential of -2.7.  If Atlanta can be sharp and Chicago starts flat, then Atlanta could steal Game 1. 

    However it's unlikely that after what happened with Indiana that Chicago will come out flat. Look for them to dominate the games at home and for the games in Atlanta to be close. The Hawks could squeeze out one or two home games, but they won't win in Chicago and it won't go to seven. 

    Prediction: Bulls in five or six if Hinrich plays, four or five if he doesn't.