Chicago Versus Atlanta PreviewEastern 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.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:03 PM