May 1, 2012, 11:04 AM EDT
It probably says something about this series and the two teams involved that shortly after news of reigning MVP Derrick Rose’s post-season-ending ACL tear broke, the discussion became “Does this mean the Bulls can’t beat the Heat?” or in the slightly shorter-term, “Does this mean the Bulls can’t beat the Celtics?” Remind any of these NBA prognosticators that the Bulls still technically have a first-round series to get through, and they’ll probably say “Oh yeah, the Sixers? Well, they should still get through those guys no problem. Hey, did you see that Clippers-Grizzlies game on Sunday…?”
That’s right: Even without Derrick Rose, nobody thinks that the Sixers have a chance against the Bulls. And really, why should they? The Rose-less Bulls still won at a much better clip during the regular season (18-9, a 67% winning percentage) than the Sixers did with their regular roster, and in the one game the two teams played without Rose, the Bulls won 89-80. The Bulls were even able to do that one thing without Rose that forever eluded the Sixers with their near-full complement of players: Beat the Miami Heat.
Still…take away Rose, and the teams do start seeming to match up kind of evenly. Elton Brand and Carlos Boozer, the two Duke power forwards, both have their respective strengths and weaknesses, but probably end up as something of a wash. Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala are both first-time All-Stars known for their prowess as wing defenders. John Lucas III has a little Lou Williams to him. And if you split the difference between the skills of Jodie Meeks and Evan Turner, the resulting player would probably look something like Rip Hamilton. When you look at it like that, it seems like this should be a pretty even series.
But there’s still a huge advantage that Chicago boasts without their top scorer and emotional leader: Size. Starting center Joakim Noah can’t shoot quite as well as Spencer Hawes, but he can pass like Spence does, and he can also do those things that centers are conventionally supposed to do, like rebound and block shots and protect the paint and such. The Bulls also bring two big-bodied bangers off the bench in Omir Asik and Taj Gibson off the bench that the Sixers have absolutely no answer for—Thaddeus Young, Nikola Vucevic and Lavoy Allen just don’t have the size, muscle or boarding/defensive wherewithal to hang. If the Bulls can continue to own the glass, they can control the pace of the game, and score enough easy points off second-chance opportunities and run-outs that it’ll mitigate the loss of Rose’s 21.8 PPG a little.
Of course, if the Sixers can hang tough for three quarters, the loss of Rose does mean that the Bulls now join our ranks of the closerless—without Rose, crunchtime possessions either run through likely replacement starter CJ Watson or post scorer Carlos Boozer, neither of whom anyone is going to be confusing with Dirk Nowitzki in the fourth quarter anytime soon. You’d still probably take their options over those of the Sixers, but it at least means that one of the Bulls’ biggest advantages over the Sixers going into the series has been nullified somewhat, and should the games ever be tight down the stretch, we’ll all be hugely relieved not to see #1 in red dancing around in the half-court, causing all kinds of trouble for Philly.
8:00 tip tonight from the United Center. Hard to say exactly where the series goes from here, but realistically speaking, post-Rose injury I’d adjust the Sixers’ chances in this series from about 1 in 15 to about 1 in 8 — even if that’s about twice as likely, it’s still a relatively small chance in general. If the Sixers are goign to win this series, then I don’t think I’m going out on much of a limb by saying they have to start with a win tonight — punch the reeling Chicago in the mouth, take back home court and put the rest of the league on notice that the Bulls haven’t advanced to face the Celtics (or maybe the Hawks, and then maybe the Heat) just yet.
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