The travails of the Sixers have been well-chronicled here, partly because we have a big Sixers fan on the staff, partly because everyone likes to watch a train wreck. The Bulls, meanwhile, have been at the top or near the top of Sheridan’s Power Rankings and Heisler’s Power Rankings since this truncated season began on Christmas Day, and no number of injuries could knock them from their perch. Five things to watch for in the first-round playoff series between the Chicago Bulls and the Philadelphia 76ers:
- THE BULLETIN BOARD FACTOR: Earlier this week, 76ers guard Evan Turner provided some incentive for the Bulls. When asked by the Delaware County Daily Times what finishing eighth rather than seventh in the Eastern Conference would mean, Turner said, “It means we’re dodging the tougher team (Miami). That’s what I think. I think we’ll be able to compete well against Chicago, and have an opportunity to win the series.” The media spun this into a diss of the Bulls, but Turner – who quickly backpedaled a day later – was merely stating fact: Over the last two years, Philadelphia is 1-10 vs. Miami, including the playoffs. It is 3-3 vs. Chicago, including one win without Andre Iguodala and another on the road.
- THE DERRICK ROSE FACTOR: The reigning MVP, Rose missed 27 games this season with an assortment of injuries and is still nursing ankle and foot ailments. He is by far the most impactful player in this series, but he has played just six games this month – shooting 26-of-81 from the field – and hasn’t appeared to be fully recovered or in rhythm. The Bulls were 18-9 without him this season, showing they can be successful without their floor leader and best player. But they really don’t want to entertain that idea in the postseason. If Rose is off his game – and he might be, if the Sixers use Iguodala to hound him – this could go from a short series to a long one.
- THE HALFCOURT TRAP FACTOR: In a 96-91 home loss to Chicago on March 4, Philadelphia cut a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to two, partially by springing a halfcourt trap that forced Rose to give up the ball early in the offense. On many of those possessions, he did not get the ball back, and others were forced to make decisions that resulted in turnovers or bad shots. Rose ultimately made a difficult, twisting drive with 20 seconds left to seal the deal, but the Sixers may have found a late-game formula that will help level the court. And they will need it, because of …
- THE CRUNCH TIME FACTOR: When the Bulls need a basket, they go to Rose, who creates for himself or others and gets the benefit of the superstar whistle. Who are the Sixers going to in a one-possession game with less than three minutes to go? The committee approach doesn’t work, evidenced by their 1-8 record in games decided by four points or less. Iguodala often ends up in this role – and often settles for jumpers, perhaps because he is self-conscious about his horrid 62 percent from the line. Better choices may be Lou Williams, who excels at drawing fouls with his quickness, or even Evan Turner, who usually has a favorable size matchup as a guard. The bottom line is we will be stunned if the Sixers win a close game in this series.
- THE FRONTCOURT FACTOR: The Bulls have a solid four-man big rotation of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Omer Asik and the underrated Taj Gibson, all of whom average at least five rebounds per game. Chicago actually is a bit better defensively with backups Asik and Gibson on the floor. Meanwhile, the Sixers’ best two bigs – center Spencer Hawes and forward Thaddeus Young – both have been coming off the bench of late. To have Hawes play alongside Young, coach Doug Collins has been starting rookies Nikola Vucevic and Lavoy Allen, both of whom are in over their heads in this series. And while Elton Brand has not been terrible this season, he has been consistently outplayed at the 4-spot over the last month-plus, a big reason for Philadelphia’s late-season slide.
SHERIDAN: Bulls in 4.
HUBBARD: Bulls in 5.
HEISLER: Bulls in 6.
BERNUCCA: Bulls in 6.
HAMILTON: Bulls in 5.
PERKINS: Bulls in 4.
ZAGORIA: Bulls in 6.
PARK: Bulls in 5.
For the complete first-round NBA playoff schedule, click here.
OTHER SERIES PREVIEWS AND PREDICTIONS