There doesn't appear to be a right answer as to whether the Chicago Bulls or Brooklyn Nets will pull out a first round series victory. Brooklyn is the fourth seed to Chicago's fifth, and the Nets also have go-to stars in Deron Williams and Joe Johnson.
Why is it then, that predictions are heavily favoring the Bulls? It's not an easy choice to say this series will end in an upset, but Tom Thibodeau's defensive philosophies that fit his current roster like a glove make it hard to pick against Chicago.
USA Today's Adi Joseph gives the Bulls a six-game victory. Chicago can match up defensive specialist Joakim Noah against scoring center Brook Lopez, and the combination of Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson should give Williams a dose of defense and offense. The Nets will be able to hang with Williams looking like his All-Star self, but it's hard to say Chicago's defense won't have Brooklyn backpeddling when adjustments are made and things don't go their way offensively.
CSN Chicago's Aggrey Sam also gives the Nets a knock-out punch in six games. He calls Thibodeau's coaching work this season his best yet considering Chicago has fought on without MVP Derrick Rose. Brooklyn still hasn't cemented what type of it'll be after coach P.J. Calesimo took over in the middle of the year for Avery Johnson.
If there's someone apprehensive in their pick, it'd be CBS Sports' Royce Young -- though with good reason. Young has the Bulls winning in seven. Simply put, it could simply come down to Brooklyn feeling a little pressure to win with the talent assembled there. Meanwhile, the Bulls have nothing to lose as the underdogs. Their feistiness will come to a head, and that might spell trouble for the Nets.
Q&A with Tom Lorenzo of Nets Daily
Many national writers are picking the Bulls to win the series. What about the Nets do you think is causing that belief?
I don't necessarily want to play the "disrespect game," which I think is slightly in play here -- especially seeing as we're talking about a totally different, "next level" Deron Williams who right now is playing as good, if not better basketball than he ever has -- but I think the main reason is because there's some belief that a healthy Bulls team (not counting Derrick Rose) coached by Tom Thibodeau, who is one of the best in the game, is better than the fifth best team in the East. The problem is, there's no guarantee that the Bulls will enter this series healthy, with guys like Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson both dealing with injuries. So, yes, there does feel like some disrespect here, in that the Nets are a very good team certainly worthy of the home-court advantage that they own, but I do think that a lot of people are picking the Bulls to win the series because of who they are on paper, as opposed to the reality they're having to deal with right now.
Who is the X-factor for Brooklyn to win the series?
The simple answer here would be picking either Deron Williams or Brook Lopez. Heck, even Joe Johnson. But I think the real x-factor here is Gerald Wallace. He's been horrific on the offensive side of the ball in the month of April -- he averaged 2.2 points in six games on 33.3 percent shooting. The reason Wallace becomes important is because the Nets already start Reggie Evans, who isn't a terribly gifted offensive player, but serves a purpose in other areas on the basketball court. Having Evans and Wallace in the lineup acting as two troubled spots on offense is tough. The Nets need to figure out how to get Wallace to regain his confidence, because Evans has had nice games where he's scored in double-figures, but you can't count on him to score. They need Wallace to put up better than 2.2 points per game in this series if they want to win.
What's your final prediction?
Naturally, I'm expecting the Nets to win this series, given how well D-Will and Lopez are playing right now and how balanced the Nets are in winning at home and on the road, but also because I think there's a genuine reason to be concerned with the injuries on the Chicago side. Noah doesn't seem healthy, and if he can't play a full 30-plus minutes at "Noah speed," that's going to be a problem for the Bulls. This will certainly be a fun series, and I don't think either team looks at a series win as a "treat" -- good luck against the Heat! -- but I do think the Nets are often overlooked and believe they're capable of pulling this off in six games.
Q&A with Jason Patt of Blog a Bull
If there were one major advantage that the Bulls have on the Nets outside of their defense, what might that be?
The Bulls have an advantage with Carlos Boozer against Reggie Evans, which was exploited big time in a 92-90 win on April 4. Boozer had 29 points and 18 rebounds in that win, and has generally been good in the season series, averaging 21.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. Boozer struggles big time with elite length and athleticism, something that Evans doesn't really have. Also, Evans' struggles on the offensive end allow the Bulls to hide Boozer on defense.
How big of a deal is it for the Bulls that Joakim Noah is still ailing?
The Noah injury is a huge deal for the Bulls, for various reasons. Noah was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate before being sidelined with the plantar fasciitis, and his elite defense will be missed against Brook Lopez. Noah is also really important because of his ability to guard the pick-and-roll, a key component of Tom Thibodeau's defense. Offensively, Noah is one of the NBA's best passing centers and the Bulls often run sets through him. Not having that option is another blow to a team that already sorely lacks offense without Derrick Rose in the lineup.
What's your final prediction?
I initially had Bulls in six before the latest Noah news, which has me wavering. I'm going to stick with the Bulls because they have shown the ability to handle the Nets with a short-handed roster on multiple occasions this season, although regular season results often don't translate to the postseason. Not having a healthy Noah could prove to be a fatal blow to the Bulls, but I'm still going to say they win in seven.