The Wizards made us really, really upset on the final night of the regular season by moving up from sixth place to fifth place, denying us a rematch of last year’s Bulls-Nets series that went seven games and was won by Joakim Noah in his old home borough.
Well, I guess it wasn’t the Wizards’ fault. All the Nets needed to do to lock up that matchup (and avoid the Heat in the second round) was beat Cleveland. Instead, they lost by 29.
Hmmm. When you think about it, that might have been the signature moment of this Tankapalooza season.
Because the Brooklyn Nets really don”t want to avoid the two-time defending champion Heat. They’d rather play them, especially after going 4-0 in the regular season against the Heat, becoming the first team ever to sweep a LeBron James team 4-0 since he entered the NBA.
But to get to the promised land (promised sand?) of South Beach, the Nets must still defeat a Toronto Raptors team that is long on talent but short on playoff experience — especially compared to a Nets team that has Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams among its mainstays. The Nets are an old team and an expensive team ($180 million payroll), and it remains to be seen if their experience is a determining factor.
But this preview is not about the Nets, it is about the Bulls and how they are about to destroy the Wizards, I think. So off we go …
1. Why do I think the Wizards are no match for Chicago?
The main thing is experience, and the Bulls have a ton of it despite being without Derrick Rose (not to mention Luol Deng, who as traded at midseason), and the second thing is coaching, an area where Tom Thibodeau has a leg up on Randy Wittman, both in the personality department and the tactician department.
I like Marcin Gortat a whole lot (I got to know him well when he was with the Orlando Magic, and I learned that he drives a car faster than any other NBA player — or so he claims), but I like Joakim Noah a whole lot more. Noah’s game keeps growing, he was the fourth pick on my MVP ballot (ahead of Al Jefferson and behind LeBron James), and he would have led the NBA in triple-doubles if he hasn’t come up one or two rebounds, assists or points shy a half-dozen times.
It is rare to see a center dominate a game without playing the way a true center plays, and that makes Noah all the more appealing, IMHO. I think D.J. Augustin can put up numbers that are equal to John Wall’s, and I think Jimmy Butler can shut down Bradley Beal. The difference makers will be Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson, and the Bulls will move on to give the Indiana Pacers all they can handle in Round 2.
2. What’s up with Noah’s shooting style.
Anybody who taught a player to shoot the ball the way Noah shoots it would have his coaching license taken away. The ball comes off Noah’s hands with a sidespin, hence its nickname _ “The Tornado.” I can’t wait for the day when Noah drops in a 3-pointer, because he is 0-for-the past six seasons after somehow making three as a rookie.
Noah’s value comes from his abilities as a passer, especially out of the high post when he can use his court vision best.
The guy is also an extremely active defender, whether situated in the low post against a big burly guy, or out on the perimeter against a playmaker. This is a guy, after all, who relishes defending LeBron James.
3. Why did I vote for Tom Thibodeau for Coach of the Year?
Because he made the playoffs and finished 14 games above .500 despite being without Rose and Deng. Those were his best and third-best players, and to win as much as he did with as little as he had is simply astonishing.
Yes, Jeff Hornacek is a worthy candidate. Same with Steve Clifford and Dwane Casey. But Thibodeau is the only coach who has a legit shot to knock off Miami or Indiana, whereas Hornacek will be in the same place I’ll be in this weekend — deep down in the sofa.
4. Who is the x-factor in this series?
Without a doubt, it is John Wall.
This is a guy who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn during his first few seasons in the league, and suddenly he became a 3-point shooter after a full summer of working hard on his shot.
You can stump your friends with this question: Wall, who made 108 3-pointers this season, wasn’t always a great shooter. How many 3s did he made in the previous two years?
The answer is 15 — 12 in 2012-13, and 3 in 2011-12.
If he can give the Wizards another deep shooting weapon to go along with Trevor Ariza and Beal, it could be enough to overcome Chicago’s league-leading defense.
5. Will President Obama attend any of the games?
My Secret Service sources (that’s a lie, I don’t really have Secret Service sources) tell me yes, as his hometown team will be playing Games 3 and 4 in the District, where Obama rarely attends games. (Personal story: I covered a USA-Brazil exhibition game in D.C. that was attended by Obama, his wife, his daughters and Vice President Joe Biden, and I got to see firsthand what it’s like when the Secret Service goes into major lockdown mode. I couldn’t even get into the press room, but I was able to get into an 8th row seat at midcourt whose ticketholder was a no-show. It goes down as one of my favorite Team USA coverage experiences.)
MORE PLAYOFF PREVIEWS
CHRIS SHERIDAN – BULLS in 4
MARK HEISLER – BULLS in 4
JAN HUBBARD – BULLS in 6
DANNY SCHAYES – WIZARDS in 7
CHRIS BERNUCCA – BULLS in 5
PETER MAY – BULLS in 5
BOBBY GONZALEZ – BULLS in 6
SHLOMO SPRUNG – BULLS in 6
JIM PARK – BULLS in 6
MIKE SCOTTO – BULLS in 6
ANDY KAMENETZKY – BULLS in 6
BRIAN KAMENETZKY – BULLS in 6