This is my first preview, so bear with me if I don't exude the particular brand of cynicism that is expected and celebrated on BaB. My general outlook is although the Bulls have certainly underperformed in the regular season and at times have been downright infuriating to watch, they are still a very talented and dangerous team that has a decent chance of having success in the postseason. It’s also great to finally see Rose play playoff basketball healthy (knock on wood - seriously, do it! I did!) and with a cast of very capable scorers. As the time for the rubber to meet the road quickly approaches, however, the Bulls are stumbling to build chemistry and set a rotation due to another ridiculously injury-ridden season.
The Nets have similarly underperformed this season. They have the 5th worst 3-point shooting percentage in the league at 33.1% and are tied with the Heat for 9th worst overall +/- at -2.8. This team has been out of the playoff race pretty much the whole way up until a recent surge that followed the trading of KG’s blabbering carcass to Minnesota. They currently hold the eighth seed by way of tiebreaker over the similarly surging Pacers (both teams are 7-3 in their last ten), and are facing the Bulls on the tail end of a back-to-back after a blowout loss to the Bucks.
The Nets followed an impressive 6 game winning streak, including a win over the Cavs, by alternating some wildly inconsistent wins (e.g. over the Wall-less Wizards by 37!) and losses (e.g. to their slated first round opponent Hawks by 32). Here’s hoping the Bulls meet the challenge of a team fighting for its playoff life and break the Nets’ alternating pattern.
In my opinion, the Bulls match up well with the Nets, as they aren’t particularly athletic or big, which are the types of teams that tend to give the Bulls problems. Against a slower, more half-court oriented team, the Bulls can set their purportedly detail-oriented defense and enable Rose to push the ball off misses. On paper, the matchup seems to favor the Bulls:
PG - Deron Williams has had a pretty dismal season by his standards, one marred by injury and inconsistency, and one where he was even coming off the bench for parts of the season. Rose’s struggles are well known and have been discussed ad nauseam here, but I think he wins this matchup hands down, although Williams is a better three point shooter (I know, who isn’t?) and puts up more assists on a nightly basis (6.6 vs. 5). Rose looked great against the PG-less 76ers and is off his minutes restriction, while Williams has regressed sharply after a good stretch of games. I think Rose should be able to break DWill down off the dribble at will (relatively speaking, of course, don’t mistake this for that dumb "free-cheese" Stacey King-ism) and give him fits defensively. Advantage: Bulls.
SG/F – while Jimmy is banged up, it looks like he is playing tonight (I haven’t found anything to the contrary), and the general expectation is he should have the advantage against Joe Johnson. Jimmy, of course, played excellent defense on Joe in that 2012-13 playoff series, is having himself an All-Star season, and is apparently the next Larry Bird and at least one guy’s vote for MVP. Joe dominated this matchup when the Nets beat the Bulls back in December, though to me that is a signal that Jimmy has had this game circled on his calendar and will be looking to shut Joe down big time. Advantage: Bulls
SG/F – I know the wing positions don’t quite line up here, though I did the comparison’s based on impact to the team, plus Jimmy is typically the one tasked with guarding Johnson. Nevertheless, Jack and Dunleavy are both solid players. A lot of what Dunleavy brings to the table (length, spacing, movement off the ball, missed layups, and post-no-call flailing bursts of outrage while jogging back defensively) do not show up on the stat sheet (except for his length, that’s on there), but his impact was very visible to Bulls fans while he was day-to-day for two months. Jarrett Jack is the better individual scorer (12 ppg on 44.0% shooting) and will probably give the Bulls some problems if he can get into the lane. To me this matchup is basically even.
PF – this comparison is a strange one for me. Thad Young is an undersized power-forward with a jump-shooting oriented game while Noah is a center with a pass oriented game, and yet they are matched up at least ostensibly at power-forward. Obviously, Young is a better scorer (13.9 ppg on 50.8% shooting) while Noah has had a very underwhelming season and unfortunately doesn’t seem to be close to finding himself. While Noah has the edge defensively, at least in reputation, he might have a hard time covering Young out on the perimeter and recovering to help inside. As much love and respect as I have for Noah, I cannot give him the advantage here with his season-long struggles, particularly with finishing at the rim. This is an open invitation to Noah to go out and get a triple double and prove me wrong. Advantage: Nets
C – I am excited to see this matchup because I see Lopez and Pau as very similar players. Both are 7-footers with excellent mid-range and post games. Both are considered soft for their size, with Lopez averaging only 7.4 rebounds on the season and Pau categorically refusing to jump or box out for rebounds (at least as the narrative goes – the guy is 4th in the league so he’s doing something right). This should be a fun battle down low, and while Pau is having the better season overall and is the better rebounder and passer, he might have a handful defending against Lopez’ post game. Nevertheless, I expect Pau to get his and pretty much cancel out the Nets’ most consistent and effective offensive weapon. Advantage: Nets (slightly).
Bench – I won’t belabor this because I discussed the starters so much, but with Niko, Brooks, Snell, and Taj, the Bulls have the advantage against most any bench in the NBA. Plumlee and Bogdanovic are decent players, and anyone that has watched the Nets this season feel free to correct me, but the onslaught of talent on the Bulls’ bench will be difficult for the Nets to match and will probably be what does them in. Advantage: Bulls.
All in all, this is a game the Bulls should and need to win. They have been fairly dominant over the Nets, dating back to that 12-13 season. Time to kill some dreams, Bulls. On that note, I’ll just leave this here, as no Bulls-Nets preview should be without it.