Eastern Playoff Preview: Brooklyn Nets vs. Chicago Bulls
Aaron Weiss: Emotions are a little high for me on this one, y’all. My face is getting flushed and I feel like crying even as I write this. I’m a frustrated Bulls fan, because I feel scared for the future. Let me say right now, I think the Bulls will win this series. I think they’ll win it pretty cleanly. The defense is tough, and the will of these guys is amazing. The Nets, to be frank, are not really a good team, or at least aren’t good against the Bulls. Look at the game when a Bulls team without Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, or Marco Belinelli beat a completely healthy Nets team just a week ago, 92-90. It was a hard-fought win, but a big discrepancy came in the rebounds. The Bulls won the glass 46-30, a testament to their defense, but also to how simple of a team the Nets are. Built around a center who scores a lot and rebounds none and a point guard who misses shots then sulks about it, it’s actually confusing as to how they ended up getting this far and have this good of a record. Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries have been unspeakably bad, with the well-paid Humphries riding the bench, while Reggie Evans plays in his place. Reggie Evans, who does nothing but rebound.
It’s all he does, but they have to play him 30+ minutes per game, because Brook Lopez certainly can’t rebound. Together they make for a healthy Dwight Howard, but it leaves them with four players on the court… kind of. I guess I’m also down on the Nets because they don’t seem to have any kind of personality or fight in them. They were born out of fat contracts, two owners with their own cult of personality, and a new stadium that needed a team to attract fans to pay off its unbelievable cost. The Bulls were born out of cheap management, a gutsy, then injured, then cowardly point guard who’s made more appearances dominating teammates in practice than on the court, and a coach who plays 82 Game 7’s every season. They are wounded, they are frustrating, but they are the definition of Spartan soldier. There is no quit, even if it ends with their bodies being carried back on their bloody shield.
You know how they really won that game against the Nets? It took Carlos Boozer playing 46 minutes, Jimmy Butler 43 minutes, and Luol Deng 42 minutes, with a lucky as hell layup from Nate Robinson, who has been a godsend for this team’s offense. For every stupid question about D-Rose coming back from local columnists looking for gossip, for every inexplicable loss to Charlotte or Toronto, this team will not be broken. They will be forgotten once Derrick receives his sign from God or from his agent to grace us with his presence. He will get the credit for every win. He’ll stand at the podium. He’ll pose for the pictures. But it was THIS Bulls team that got us here, and it’s that team that I am proud to root for.
Prediction: Bulls win 4-1
Spencer Lund: I’m scared to predict this series because the emotions of the beaten down (but not really) Bulls fans make me uncomfortable. It’s hard to feel sorry for fans that got a decade plus of MJ and Scottie then got a once-in-a-lifetime point guard who won an MVP award earlier in his career than LeBron. But, losing Rose in the first round of last season’s playoffs combined with all the back-and-forth about his possible return, and the injuries to Joakim Noah, Boozer and Gibson makes it a tough season regardless of their fortune earlier in franchise history. And so I picture every Bulls fan looking like Tom Thibodeau after a big meal: sweaty and unusually bothered by their shirt collars and needing an extra belt buckle hole. But that’s unfair—and slightly cruel—because Thibodeau and this gang have been [insert war imagery or warrior reference] during a trying regular season. Jimmy Butler might be the best late first round pick in a while, and Noah and Gibson are day-to-day without thinking about Rose’s return.
I never really understood the correlation between the boring way Brooklyn plays and their ability to win basketball games. Do they slow the ball down a lot and go to their (supposedly) plodding center a lot more than other teams? Yes, yes they do, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less of a threat to advance. Only the Hornets play at a slower pace than the Nets, but Memphis, a legit contender in the tougher Western Conference, only averages .19 possessions more per 48 minutes than the Nets do with the third lowest pace in the league behind Brookyn. So regardless of whether they are “fun” to watch, they’re dangerous. This series is gonna be really boring though because Chicago is almost as slow as Brooklyn and they have Nate Robinson on their team, a guy who never met a three-pointer he didn’t want to jack even when Thibodeau threatens to dock him TV time when he gets back to his hotel room.
If Noah is healthy—a big if—and if Gibson is back, they should negate the influence of Lopez on the game.** But the Bulls’ defensive tenacity and ability to pack the paint might not be able to withstand a streaking Deron Williams, who has been playing like a max contract guy since the All-Star break. Nate Robinson might shoot lights out in one game and steal it for the Bulls, and their defense and tenacity on the glass might win one or two more, but if Johnson plays up to his averages, and Williams continues to play like he’s back running a screen and roll with Boozer in Utah, the Nets will win this series. But it’ll be close, it’ll be really close, and you never know, Rose might suit up, in which case all this gets thrown out the window and Aaron finds God.
Prediction: Nets win, 4-3
Michael Pina: It appears Joakim Noah may not play in this series, and if he does he won’t be the same guy who made the All-Star team and established himself as a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate. So, that’s pretty significant. But throughout the season Brooklyn has been a slow, plodding team. Their offense is efficient, and contains one of the most lethal point guard/center combinations in the NBA (when healthy!), but will they have enough aggression to attack Chicago’s defense where it hurts?
Joe Johnson should have an awful series against Luol Deng. His game exists on an island of isolation; unfortunately for him, it’s the same island where Chicago’s defense dictates legislation. But in the end I can’t see myself picking the undermanned team, when heading in both were about evenly matched.
Prediction: Nets win, 4-2