Two rookie head coaches square off as division rivals become first round opponents.
1. Chicago Bulls vs 8. Indiana Pacers
The Bulls enter the postseason with a 60 plus win season for the first time since the Jordan era. Headed up by the likely MVP, Derrick Rose, the Bulls, coached by the likely COY in Tom Thibodeau, bring a formidable defense to the playoffs. Chicago has the best team defensive rating in the league at 100.2 and the second best opponents points per game holding the opposition to 91.3 points. With that strong defense, the Bulls are also tops in the league in rebounding margin. They average 44.1 rebounds per game while holding their opponents to 38.5. The Pacers will have their work cut out for them if they hope to have a chance in this series.
Chicago won the regular season series three games to one and averaged 102.3 points per contest while Indiana mustered an average of 90.8 points. However, the Pacers are one of the few teams that were able to keep up with the Bulls on the glass in their regular season meetings. Indiana averaged 45.8 rebounds against Chicago, which averaged 48. They will need to keep the rebounding close if they wish to keep games manageable.
Darren Collison vs Derrick Rose
This will be the point guard matchup for the series. It will be up to Collison to stop, or at least steer Rose into the defense behind him which is easier said than done. Their regular season meetings this season were a lopsided affair to say the least. Rose averaged 27 points against Collison and the Pacers this season. This is because of all the Isolation plays that the Bulls run for Rose. Chicago is tops in the league in terms of offensive Isolation efficiency while Indiana is one of the worst at defending it. Collison, himself, allows 1.16 points per possession when an opposing player isolates him. That mark is the worst on the Pacers and he will be the one tasked with covering Rose most often.
Neither Deng nor Granger shot particularly well when matched up with against each other this season. Both small forwards are lengthy which gives them the ability to pester shots and disrupt the passing lanes. Deng’s primary weapon is his work off the ball and his ability to slash into the paint for easy scoring opportunities. Granger will likely have to work through a variety of screens to keep up with Deng’s movement around the court. Luckily for Granger, the Pacers are one of the better teams in the league at defending ball and off ball screens.
Granger’s takes his shots either at the rim or from 16 feet and out. These are the area’s where he is most effective as he shoots 61.1 percent at the rim, 35 percent from 16-23 feet, and has an effective field goal percentage of 57.9 from behind the arc. Deng will need to defend the perimeter well and also keep Granger from getting into the paint. Limiting Granger to mid-range jumpers will be key for Deng and the Bulls.
Despite what Dr. Jack Ramsay thinks, Keith Bogans is not that great of a defender. That much will be shown during this series when he is forced to chase Mike Dunleavy Jr. all over the court. Dunleavy is not a Reggie Miller type in terms of movement but picks his spots nicely. Dunleavy, who is six-foot-nine, should have no problem shooting over the six-foot-five frame of Bogans either. For these reasons Thibodeau should call on Ronnie Brewer to take over the main duties of defending Dunleavy. Brewer is six-foot-seven and the best defender on the Bulls. He wont be on the floor for scoring purposes, Chicago has plenty of scoring threats, but his play will be crucial in disrupting the offense of the Pacers and creating turnovers.
Despite what many people assume, the Bulls do not have good offensive post production. Chicago is ranked 22nd in the league in points per possession when posting up. They will not have much success in the post against the Pacers because of Indiana’s frontcourt size and especially because of Jeff Foster. Foster is the best post defender on the team and will force players like Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson out of any semblance of a comfort zone when down on the blocks. Along with his post defense, Foster will also provide much-needed rebounding for the Pacers. Anyone familiar with his game knows that he is a rebounding machine. Foster averages 6.1 offensive and 7.3 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes of game time. Those numbers are good for a total rebounding percentage of 20.7 while he is on the floor.
The Indiana Pacers matchup with the Chicago Bulls fairly well in every way except one. They cannot stop Derrick Rose. For Frank Vogel’s team to have any chance at drawing out this series they will need to get out in transition and press the issue. Unfortunately, the Pacers are very poor at scoring in transition and too often settle for contested or low percentage shots. They need to get to the rim and finish. All of this is moot, however, because Derrick Rose is going to slice though their defense and create open looks and layups for himself. It is not out of the question that Indiana might be able to squeak out two wins this series but it is somewhat improbable. Bulls defeat the Pacers 4-1.