It was an almost monumental collapse that sent the Philadelphia 76ers to the verge of missing the playoffs entirely. Luckily, they aren’t the 2007 New York Mets and they just squeezed into the postseason, aided by the perpetual hump that taunts the Milwaukee Bucks. As with anything in this culture of spin, the Sixers readily admitted that they prefer to face the Chicago Bulls, who are the number one seed in the East. It seems as though they have an aversion to playing the Miami Heat and as such they didn’t even try to win their last regular season game so that they could lock up the eighth seed. If this logic seems flawed, that’s because it is. Yet, when a team realizes who and what it is, as the Sixers may have done as they watched their excellent first half of the season be for not, they must adapt to a mindset that reaches above limited expectations. Therefore: bring on the Bulls!
Obviously, this is not an ideal scenario for the Sixers. They are the eighth seed and have lost all sense of identity as the shortened season slogged into a battle of attrition with body, fatigue, and Doug Collins. Despite having capable players and some depth the defined roles of players have been blurred and they can no longer threaten an opponent from all sides. Especially in late game situations, Philadelphia becomes a haphazard mess as player take arrant, contested jumpers and become uninterested defensively. Though they possess the ability to force turnovers late, and have done so repeatedly, their instinct to close and win games is nonexistent. If they hope to overcome this self-imposed obstacle they better have a damn good plan and execute it flawlessly because at the end of games, Chicago is their antithesis.
Perhaps, with an oft ailing Derrick Rose, the Sixers thought they matched up well with the Bulls. On paper, maybe. Andre Iguodala and Luol Deng matchup well and should cancel one another out. This same line of thinking is extended to the matchups of Elton Brand and Carlos Boozer; and Lou Williams and the shell formerly known as Rip Hamilton, who, despite riding the pine (a dated term as the folding chairs the players sit on resemble the luxury of a fine recliner) for much of the season, has shown occasional bursts of his former, productive self; and Thaddeus Young, with his range, could conceivably draw Taj Gibson out of the paint, where his shot blocking is to be feared. That is where the comparisons, flawed as they are, end.
Jrue Holiday is not the reigning NBA MVP, Rose is. Evan Turner was the second overall draft pick a couple of years ago but he has yet to fully understand his roll on the Sixers and can get completely lost over the course of a game. Then there is Jodie Meeks and Spencer Hawes. All are decent players, unrefined, but decent nonetheless. Yet, they cannot fully match the depth that Chicago brings to the table.
The Bulls, to go along with the players already mentioned, have Joakim Noah, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, John Lucas, C.J. Watson, Omer Asik, Mike James (remember him?), and the main man, Brian Scalabrine. Here the advantage is the Bulls’. Oh, and they have Rose.
One interesting note, however, is that the Sixers, this season, performed better against the Bulls when Rose was on the court. Their net rating goes from -5.2 with him on the bench to 5.8 while he is in the game. This can be attributed to the rise in their 3-point percentage from 18.8 percent to 26.3 percent with Rose on the floor.
It will be interesting to see who Iguodala guards. He will likely split time between Rose and Deng but when not guarding one, the other has the potential to thrive.
Personnel aside, the Bulls implement one of the most disciplined defenses in the league. They hold their opponents to a league low 88.2 points per game on 42.1 percent field goal shooting, a number that is second best in the league. Chicago also allowed a league low in number of 3-point shots they allowed their opponents to take as they are quick to chase players off the arc, forcing them into the teeth of their defense. Perhaps the heart of their defense is their rebounding. They led the league in defensive rebounding, rarely allowing a second chance opportunity. What the Bulls lack in mediocre offense, and it is just that, make no mistake, they more than make up for in superb defense that will be tough for the Sixers to crack.
This series will be dominated by defense. The 76ers have the third best defense in the NBA so Chicago shouldn’t feel all high and mighty entering this match up. Where the Sixers should try and exploit the Bulls is by getting to the free throw line. Philadelphia is much more adept at creating fouls and going to the line than Chicago. This could be a great equalizer as the Sixers are ranked 23 in points per game and 24 in pace.
Essentially, the meeting of the Bulls and Sixers will not be exciting to the casual fan. It will be marred with slow, tedious action, countless turnovers forced by two good defenses, and a veritable lack of scoring. In the end the Bulls will out bore (and it will be boring) the Sixers and advance to the second round. One could hope this series would be similar to the Bulls and Pacers first round meeting last season, but that seems a bit far-fetched. Those Pacers were hungry, these Sixers are lost.
Doyle Rader predicts: Bulls defeat 76ers 4-1
Travis Huse predicts: Bulls defeat 76ers 4-1