In their first season since moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn, the Nets are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Going further back, Game 1 between the Nets and Chicago Bulls on Saturday night at the Barclays Center will be the first postseason game of any kind in Brooklyn since 1956, when the Dodgers were still in town.
The series between the No. 4 Nets and No. 5 Bulls appears to be a bit of a toss-up, although Brooklyn has one key thing going for it: good health. The Nets enter the series with a fully-stocked roster, and Chicago is limping in with several injuries to key players.
The biggest injury, of course, is the one to Derrick Rose, who is still not ready to play more than 11 months after tearing his ACL in Game 1 of last year's playoffs. Rose has been fully practicing for weeks and the team has not ruled out a postseason return, but Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said Saturday morning that the Bulls' star will likely not return this year.
Chicago's offense has struggled all season without Rose in the lineup, finishing 29th in the NBA in scoring at just 93.2 points per game and 24th in offensive rating. Numerous injuries to other key players have hurt as well, although the Bulls were able to still muster 45 wins thanks to a strong defense that allowed just 92.9 points per game. Chicago finished the year ranked fifth in defensive rating.
A huge component to that stalwart defense was the play of Joakim Noah, who was selected to his first All-Star team and was considered a top Defensive Player of the Year candidate before a nagging case of plantar fasciitis kept him out for much of the second half of the year. Unfortunately for the Bulls, that injury is not going away anytime soon, and while Noah -- who grew up in New York -- is considered a game-time decision for Game 1, it's looking doubtful that he will play.
Fellow New Yorker Taj Gibson has also been battling an injury of his own, as he just returned from a lengthy absence due to a sprained knee. The news is better on his front, with Gibson feeling a bit more healthy and set to increase his minutes load, which is essential with Noah ailing.
With two key members of the Bulls' frontline not at 100 percent, Nets big man Brook Lopez will look to take advantage. Lopez has had a lot of success against Chicago this season, averaging 22.4 points in four games. He will likely be going up against Nazr Mohammed to start, although Gibson and Carlos Boozer should also draw the assignment at times.
Also looking to take advantage of Noah's injury will be Deron Williams, who has been setting the league on fire of late. Now fully healthy after dealing with a plethora of injuries early in the season, Williams averaged 24.6 points and 8.4 assists in April. His return to elite play is the biggest reason the Nets finished the year on a high note, winning six of their last seven games.
While the Bulls are hurting, they did have short-handed success during the regular season against the Nets, winning the series 3-1. In the last meeting in Brooklyn on April 4, Chicago was without Noah, Gibson, Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli, but still pulled out a 92-90 victory despite Williams and Lopez combining for 58 points.Boozer scored 29 points and had 18 rebounds in that game, and he will need to play big against Reggie Evans for the Bulls to have success in this series.
Game 1 for Bulls-Nets is set to tip-off Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPN.