The 2011-2012 basketball season is nearing the All-star break, and the playoffs are vaguely taking shape. Chicago and Miami appear to be the best in the east and awaiting another June show-down to determine who plays in the NBA finals. A lot can change with regards to injuries, trades, and quality of play, but based on what you have seen thusfar in the NBA season, which play-off match-ups do you believe are the best and worst for the Bulls through the first and second round?
The current seeding in the east is as follows:
1. Miami (25-7)
2. Chicago (25-8)
3. Philadelphia (20-11)
4. Orlando (20-12)
5. Atlanta (19-12)
6. Indiana (18-12)
7. Boston (15-14)
8. New York (16-16)
The 9th seed is currently Milwaukee at 12-18, barring an unforeseen disaster I see the aforementioned 8 teams making the playoffs. I am quite confident the order will change, but these 8 teams will be playing in April/May with Miami and Chicago securing the first two seeds. My preferences (a mix of (un)favorable and personal choice) for the undercard bouts are as follows:
BOSTON: I hope the Bulls draw the Celtics for several reasons. First, the Celtics are old. I believe every eastern playoff team is going to want to avoid both the 7/8 seeds (Chicago/Miami), therefore no team will have the luxury of resting players leading into the playoffs. This becomes particularly detrimental to the Celtics. They will have to play hard down the stretch of a condensed schedule on old knees, by playoff time the Celtics will be gassed.
Further, the match-ups are very favorable. The Celtics collective dung heap at center provides Boozer with a defensive match-up that won't kill him. Deng's defense can challenge Pierce without much help defense, while also providing Pierce with a player he must defend. I am unsure how the hypothetical Rip Hamilton will defend Ray Allen running off a series of screens, though I would imagine his savvy at creating space for himself would payoff defensively. The hypothetical Hamilton also possesses good length and should have fresh legs, while forcing Allen to run off a series of similar screens defensively (hopefully tiring him out in the process). Garnett's outside shot worries me a bit, as Noah loves to help defensively, leaving Garnett wide open for these shots, but beyond the outside shot, Garnett doesn't scare me. He has lost a step and jumping ability thus isn't the elite rebounder or defender he once was. As for Rondo, I expect him to continue to disappear in big games down the stretch. I fully expect his confidence to shatter, allowing the Bulls to cheat off him. Notice how I didn't mention their bench, that is because they don't have one.
This season's history also proves the Bulls ability to match-up well against Boston. Within the last week the Bulls split games against Boston while missing their starting back court and not playing particularly well in general. Meanwhile, Boston held Garnett out specifically to be fresh against the Bulls, and they still lost.
On a personal level, my two most hated teams are Boston and New York, therefore I would love to see the Bulls beat them. I would love Rose to dunk over Rondo, and Noah to dunk over the human ass-face known as Kevin Garnett. I am also a West Coast fan, and I believe the Boston series would be spotlighted allowing for a national broadcast for every game.
ORLANDO: Dwight Howard is a heck of a player, and I do not want the Bulls to face him. However, if the trade-off to playing Howard is getting play against Nelson, Redick, Turkoglu, Duhon and Big Baby, it is worth it. I believe the Bulls can successful deploy the strategy of letting Howard get his, while shutting everyone else down.
Howard will be a match-up problem for the Bulls, but the Bulls have good big man depth. We can throw Noah, Asik, and the hypothetical fifth big at him. If this fails to work, the Bulls can use Gibson to double. I do worry about the number of potential shooters Orlando has, and would full expect at least one lights-out perimeter shooting game from them. However, for the number of threes Anderson might have, he is the one power forward Boozer should be able to abuse. Further, with Howard having to cover defensively for Turkoglu, Anderson, and pretty much everyone else, the Bulls great passing can exploit this by drawing him to one side, and passing it to the other. The tornado may flash once more, as Noah can attempt to draw Howard away from the hoop with his 17 foot jumper. This would allow space for Rose, Boozer, and the slew of cutters the Bulls can deploy. Of course the ace up our sleeve is Deng's complete ownage of Turkoglu.
NEW YORK: I have no idea what kind of team New York will be. I was worried about the pre-Melo Knicks last year because of their ability to shoot the three. I was eager to play the Melo version of the Knicks this year as they were pretty terrible. The Lin version of the Knicks sort of scare me, because I think they can shoot extremely well and play fairly hard. I do think the Bulls would be able to exploit Lin's defensive shortcomings quite well. Of course, Melo is coming back, and we don't know how the Knicks will play once he returns. In short I have no idea what kind of team the Knicks will be come playoff time, therefore I can't take a stance.
ATLANTA: Atlanta has been playing well. I think Atlanta is a good not great team. Josh Smith poses match-up problems with Boozer/Deng, and is an excellent help defender against Rose's penetration. Iso Joe can always get hot. They have some nice pieces, but I can't imagine anything but last year's series replaying itself. A 6 game series, with Atlanta's hot shooting winning them a game, and shot selection losing them a game. I think the games will be tough, but ultimately winnable. Yea, this is a crap paragraph with little insight, but there isn't much to say, after all I am indifferent towards Atlanta.
NO THANK YOU!
PHILADELPHIA: Philly's backcourt scares me a bit. Rose has shown he struggles with extreme ball pressure (aka the Golden State formula), and Philly has the players with the athleticism and length to really bother Rose. The Bulls roster also is devoid of ball-handlers. The hypothetical Hamilton is better than Bogans dribbling, but I don't believe he will be a press-breaker, meaning the Bulls will either have to play a Rose/Watson backcourt or deploy Noah at point center.
Spencer Hawes can draw Noah away from the hoop, while being able to shoot over Boozer. Brand is not having a great season, but I don't like him matched up against Noah or Boozer. I think he has the strength and leverage advantage over Noah and the overall skills to beat some Boozerliscious defense. The 76ers defensively are long and help very well. This should minimize the Bulls effectiveness passing the ball meaning the Bulls will probably rely on Rose to create everything, against a team that can throw waves of athletic long defenders at him. I don't like that.
Recent history suggests that the 76ers gives the Bulls problems. I also respect Doug Collins a great deal, and I believe he will devise and execute a great strategy. If there is one undercard team that can upset the Bulls I think it is the 76ers. (Fwiw, I think the 76ers get destroyed if they play Miami. I'm not saying Miami is better than Chicago, just they match-up far better with Philadelphia)
INDIANA: The Pacers have good depth, good perimeter defenders, are well coached and well structured, but that doesn't worry me. What I am afraid of is the hard fouls Rose will absorb. If the Bulls learned anything last year, they learned Indiana's defensive plan will be to beat the shit out of Derrick anytime he approaches the lane. They will attempt to head-shot him, they will attempt to undercut him after takeoff, and they will attempt to elbow him while he is out of bounds (fortunately McRoberts has moved to the bench in LA). Basically, Indiana's defensive approach is extremely risky to Rose's health, and Rose's health is paramount to beating Miami.
The match-ups aren't all that favorable either. Rose obviously has a huge advantage, and hopefully Hamilton can exploit the point guard match-up if the Pacer's choose to defend Rose with George. David West can exploit Boozer's defense. Hibbert has excellent size against either Noah or Booze, and Granger will make Deng work off the ball. The Pacers have a respectable bench, and although I expect the Bulls to win the series, the Pacers will make them work to do so.
Personally, although I'd love for the Bulls to knock the Pacers out of the playoffs after Granger called Noah dirty because McRoberts clothes-lined himself attempting to cheap shot Noah, the injury risk to Rose is just too great. Also, I don't think a Pacers/Bulls match-up would have very many national broadcasts meaning it'd be internet streams for me (which kinda sucks).
What say you? Who do you want the Bulls to play or not play in the playoffs?