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Friday, April 29, 2011

Chicago Versus Atlanta Preview

Eastern Conference Second Round

#1 Chicago (62-20) vs. #5 Atlanta (44-38)

Season series: Chicago, 2-1

Atlanta can win if…the Hawks utilize their athleticism to play aggressive defense, force turnovers and score a lot of points in transition. The Bulls play great half court defense, so the Hawks must speed up the game if they plan on scoring more than 85-90 ppg.

Chicago will win because…the Bulls consistently play much harder and much smarter than the Hawks do. The Bulls' active big men will control the paint at both ends of the court, while Derrick Rose will pick apart Atlanta's defense to create shots for himself and for his teammates.

Other things to consider: I should have had the courage of my convictions regarding the Orlando Magic's prospects after their two big midseason trades but I somehow convinced myself to pick Orlando to beat Atlanta in the first round. Frankly, neither team particularly impresses me: the Hawks have essentially the same roster as last year (Kirk Hinrich was a nice midseason addition but in terms of total regular season minutes played, the only change this season is swapping Jeff Teague for Maurice Evans), and they ended up with nine fewer wins than they had in 2009-10 despite firing Coach Mike Woodson, who became a scapegoat for the team's failure to advance past the second round; the Magic went from being a legit championship contender the past two seasons to a team that I knew would struggle just to win a single playoff series. Ultimately, I thought that having the best player, homecourt advantage and the edge in coaching would enable the Magic to get by the Hawks but the fact that even those trumps could not save Orlando shows just how far that franchise has fallen in a short time--and that stark realization will become even more clear if the Bulls dismantle the Hawks as thoroughly as I expect that they will.

The Hawks are a talented team but they are frustrating to watch because they so often play without focus or direction; on paper, the Bulls may be considered less talented than the Hawks overall (even though Derrick Rose is clearly the best player on either roster) but the Bulls are much more focused than the Hawks; TNT's Kenny Smith made a great point about this series: the Bulls will dominate in a lot of areas that do not show up in the boxscore, such as deflections, corralling loose balls and hustle plays. The Bulls' tenacity will disrupt the Hawks at both ends of the court and after the Bulls convincingly thrash a team that beat Orlando 4-2 it will be apparent just how much work the Magic have to do to once again become a contending team.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:03 PM



At Friday, April 29, 2011 4:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have a strong knowledge of history in the basketball, so I must ask, is the firing of a coach when an overhyped team fails to produce expected results a commonplace practice throughout the history of the NBA or is this a new practice due to the higher level of hyperbole in the media concerning this team currently? Is this a result of the LeBron BS that occurred last summer or a combo of the two above? Do you think that coach Stan Van Gundy's, despite his obviously impressive resume, job is at risk right now?

At Saturday, April 30, 2011 1:02:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


There has always been pressure on coaches to win but that pressure is amplified by the amount and type of media coverage that prevails today.

Stan Van Gundy recently signed a contract extension, so if the Magic fire him now then they will have to pay two coaches (Van Gundy plus whoever they hire to replace him) with the league likely heading toward some kind of work stoppage. I doubt that the Magic will fire Van Gundy any time soon but the long term future of Van Gundy and GM Otis Smith is very uncertain; I think that there is more pressure on Smith because Smith is the one who blew up the team, while leaving it up to Van Gundy to sort out the mess and try to create a rotation.

The Magic's top priority will clearly be to make whatever moves they can to maximize the chance that Dwight Howard will re-sign with the team. If Howard does not want Van Gundy to remain the coach long term then Van Gundy is doomed.

At Saturday, April 30, 2011 4:54:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I thought the Orlando-Phoenix trade was defensible, but the Lewis-Arenas trade made no sense to me, no matter how much Lewis was struggling. It was clear to me that Arenas was done (and he was never all that in the first place). I'm still wondering what the Magic thought they would get by making that deal.

At Saturday, April 30, 2011 7:10:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

The recent tendency has been for the coach to take the fall for the GM's mistakes, so I expect Stan Van Gundy to get the axe here.

Dallas and Phoenix were on the cusp of being championship contenders in '08, before two disastrous deals set both franchises back - the Kidd trade in Dallas and Shaq trade in Phoenix. Not surprisingly Avery Johnson and Mike D'Antoni were relieved of their duties after their respective teams flamed out in the playoffs. Similarly, Scott Skiles took the fall in Chicago when the team struggled due to the Ben Wallace fiasco and Deng's albatross contract.

In the near future I also expect Nate McMillan (Portland), Lionel Hollins (Memphis), and Larry Drew (Atlanta) to take the fall for the GM. I don't understand why owners fire the coach instead of the GM when it's obvious that poor personnel moves are mainly responsible for poor performance on the court - but maybe that's why I'm not an owner.

At Saturday, April 30, 2011 8:37:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

Series odds:
Chicago 0.826
Atlanta 0.174

Conference odds:
Chicago 0.404
Atlanta 0.032

Championship odds:
Chicago 0.204
Atlanta 0.006

I'm sure you've read more than your share of "Chicago in three" predictions. This will not be one of them.

It's amusing to see how hype can color perception. Yes, Atlanta quit in the second round of the '09-10 playoffs. And Orlando imploded this season. But that still doesn't explain why one would expect Chicago to go from a 4-1 series (with 4 close games) vs. a 37-win, perennial lottery squad to a wipeout victory over a 44-win, perennial playoff squad. The numbers don't compute.

With that said, the loss of Hinrich will hurt the Hawks while the Bulls might have had their wakeup call vs. Indiana. Then again, could it be possible that Chicago is "who we thought they were", a good-but-not great squad that is over-reliant on Rose?

We'll get our answer in this series. Crawford has been the Hawks' best player while Johnson hasn't quit on the team yet. Atlanta does have some experience and figure to try a more productive strategy than sending Rose to the line 20+ times each game. I think Bulls advance, but look for Atlanta to steal a game or two before it's all over - and possibly more.

At Sunday, May 01, 2011 4:26:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Swapping Carter for Richardson may be a wash but that deal also involved giving up Gortat and Pietrus; I said at the time that both trades seemed like desperate moves that would ultimately eliminate any chance for the Magic to be a contending team this season and that turned out to be correct.

At Sunday, May 01, 2011 4:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

I am not sure that anyone will be fired in Orlando until it is determined when/if the 2012 season will begin.

Lionel Hollins just led Memphis to a victory over the West's top seed so I think he has pretty good job security for now. Larry Drew guided essentially the same Atlanta roster to nine fewer regular season wins this season so he might need for the Hawks to advance past the second round (or at least put up a good showing) to avoid the hot seat.

Your odds list Chicago as an overwhelming favorite and I agree with that take more than the optimism you expressed about Atlanta winning two or more games versus Chicago.

At Tuesday, May 03, 2011 5:23:00 AM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

Comment from Game 1: It seems that Chicago Bulls are "who we thought they were". However, I expect Atlanta to "let 'em off the hook", as Chicago figures to do a better job closing out close games as the series progresses.

It will be interesting to see the Atlanta organization makes any panic moves if the Hawks are eliminated in heartbreaking fashion.


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