Posted by Neil Paine on April 16, 2009
Regular Season: With rookie coach Vinny Del Negro and rookie PG Derrick Rose dictating the action from the sidelines and on the court, respectively, this team has been all over the map in 2009 -- they started out badly (23-30 in the season's 1st half), but have been decent (18-10) since the All-Star break. The loss of Luol Deng to a fractured tibia hurt, but the deadline pickups of John Salmons and Brad Miller have been huge for the Bulls down the stretch, as has the development of Joakim Noah into a legit starting big man. Before the year, some expected the Bulls to rebound from a disappointing '08, but not many saw them battling down to the wire for the 5th seed in the East before finally placing 7th.
Prime-Time Players: 1. Derrick Rose. While it looked for a while at midseason like Rose had hit the proverbial "wall," he pushed through and finished the regular season strong, averaging 19 PPG on 54.7% shooting for the month of April. He's clearly the Bulls' most important player, the catalyst for most of what they do on offense, so he's going to have to keep playing more like a vet than a rook if the Bulls are to do any damage in the playoffs.
2. John Salmons. Since his arrival in Chi-town at the trade deadline, he has really shined, posting a career-best 117 ORtg on 19% of Chicago's possessions. Better yet, he's saved his biggest games for the best opponents: he scored 38 vs. Boston on March 17th, and dropped 30 on the Lakers 4 days later. Look for him to play a big role against the Celtics.
3. Joakim Noah. Noah was decent as a rookie, but he has really come into his own in his 2nd NBA season -- which in turn has made a big difference for the Bulls' frontcourt. With Boston's Kevin Garnett possibly out for the playoffs, Noah will have a much easier time of it vs. the C's on the interior, and his efficiency, rebounding, and defense will consequently have a larger impact on the outcome of the series. Boston's loss is Noah's gain, and the Bulls will need every bit of it.
But don't count on... Ben Gordon. Gordon paced the Bulls in possession usage and shots, and he had the best offensive season of career in 2009, posting an ORtg of 112 and 5.3 OWS. However, his defense was as questionable as ever, and he has never really been able to make a big playoff splash in any of his 3 postseason appearances with the club. Chicago desperately needs him to have a big series if they're to beat Boston, but is he up to it?
Why they can win: KG isn't playing, so scoring should be easier for what was the 14th-best offense in the NBA this season. Likewise, Chicago should find it easier to cover their defensive rebounding issues in KG's absence. Most importantly, Chicago has the raw talent in place to perhaps engineer an upset in Round 1.
Why they can't win: Even without Garnett, the Celtics are a better basketball team than the Bulls, plain and simple. Chicago doesn't match up well in any facet of the game. Besides, you never know what you're going to get out of this team on any given night. There are just too many question marks to predict anything but a 1st-round defeat.
X-Factor: The (psychological) effect of KG's injury. That's really the great equalizer for the Bulls, who would have had zero chance of beating a Boston team with Garnett in uniform. They're still heavy underdogs, but it feels like Boston has been dealt the first loss of the series before a single game has even been played.
|Bulls vs.||Off.||Def.||Reb.||Coach||Exp.||The Skinny||Prediction|
|Atlanta||X||X||They'd have a puncher's chance, but that's it||Hawks in 5|
|Boston||Depends on how much they capitalize on the KG injury||Celtics in 5|
|Cleveland||Regular-season abuse continues into playoffs||Cavs in 4|
|Detroit||X||Push||This scenario just won't happen||Bulls in 6|
|Miami||X||X||X||Closer than you'd think||Heat in 7|
|Orlando||It would truly require magic for them to beat Orlando||Magic in 5|
|Philadelphia||X||X||Would come down to Philly's home-court advantage||Sixers in 7|
(Key: "X" = Advantage; blank = disadvantage)