The Sixers believe they match up better with the top-seeded Bulls than the second-seeded Heat. But a better matchup isn’t the same thing as a good matchup. Bulls guard Derrick Rose’s health may hold the key to the Sixers’ chances.
Guards Evan Turner and Lou Williams have been quoted this past week as saying that the Sixers match up better with the Chicago Bulls than they do with the Miami Heat. That may be true.
The Sixers have a .500 record against the Bulls the past two seasons. The Heat have destroyed the Sixers this season and ousted them from the first round of last year’s playoffs in five games.
The eighth-seeded Sixers (35-31) got what they wanted: a first-round matchup with the top-seeded Bulls. But a better matchup is not the same thing as a good matchup.
The Bulls compiled a 50-16 record despite the fact that point guard Derrick Rose, the league MVP last season, missed more than 40 percent of their games. The Bulls don’t have the star power of the Heat, but they have a deep and talented roster.
The Sixers had their first winning season since the 2004-05 season. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2003.
The Sixers started the season 20-9. In fact, the first time they played the Bulls (Feb. 1) – and beat them – they were just one game Chicago in the Eastern Conference standings. The Sixers struggled the rest of the season, but head coach Doug Collins sees some positive signs heading into the playoffs.
“I told the guys I think we’re a better team than when we were 20-9,” Collins said.
Collins bases part of his opinion upon the Sixers’ 109-106 overtime victory over Indiana last week, saying that once the Sixers won that game, the players started believing they were a good team again.
The players and Collins need to believe that they have a legitimate chance to beat the Bulls. There are few other believers.
The following is a preview of the Sixers-Bulls first-round series, which begins Saturday (1 p.m.) in Chicago.
The first two games are in Chicago, with the teams getting three days off until Game 2 on Tuesday (8 p.m., all times EST). The series shifts to Philadelphia for Game 3 on Friday (8 p.m.) and Game 4 on Sun., May 6 (1 p.m.). If necessary, Game 5 will be Tues., May 8 in Chicago, Game 6 will be Thurs., May 10 in Philadelphia, and Game 7 will be Sat., May 12 in Chicago.
Feb. 1: Sixers 98, Bulls 92. This may have been the highest point of the Sixers’ regular season and the lowest point of the Bulls’ regular season. The Bulls were without forward Luol Deng and shooting guard Richard Hamilton. Furthermore, Rose was reportedly sick. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau pulled his starters in the fourth quarter as the Sixers ran away with a laugher before an enthusiastic crowd at Wells Fargo Center.
March 4: Bulls 96, Sixers 91. Rose was in the lineup for this game. He scored 35 points and dished out eight assists. Still, the Sixers made it close during the final minutes. Rose hit a key jumper near the end of the game to preserve the victory.
March 17: Bulls 89, Sixers 90. Rose and Hamilton also missed this game. The Sixers, who has lost to the Heat the previous night, took advantage of their absence by running out to a 12-point lead during the first half. But backup point guard C.J. Watson burned the Sixers with 20 points (he also scored 20 in the Feb. 1 game) to lead the Bulls to victory.
The Sixers and Bulls have only met in the playoffs twice: 1990 and 1991. On both occasions, the Bulls won the first two games in Chicago, lost Game 3 in Philadelphia, then won the next two games to close out the series in five games.
Of course, that was so long ago that Michael Jordan was leading the Bulls and Charles Barkley was the Sixers’ best player.
Kyle Korver started his NBA career as a Sixer, garnering attention with his looks and his 3-point shooting. Hamilton is from Coatesville. Backup point guard John Lucas III is the son of former Sixers head coach John Lucas. While at Oklahoma State, Lucas also hit the game-winning 3-pointer that put the dagger in the hearts of Saint Joseph’s in an Elite 8 game at the Meadowlands in 2004. Assistant coaches Rick Brunson (Temple) and Ed Pinckney (Villanova) excelled in the Big Five, with Pinckney starring on Villanova’s 1985 national championship team.
The Sixers played nine of their final 11 games on the road, including the last five. They remain on the road, having flown directly from Detroit to Chicago following Thursday’s regular-season finale.
“Derrick Rose, when he’s healthy, is a tremendous point guard,” Collins said.
The key clause is “when he’s healthy.” Rose hasn’t been healthy most of the season. Five different injuries limited him to 39 games. Even when he’s healthy, as he was for the second meeting between these teams this season, the Sixers almost won despite Rose’s 35 points.
One reason the Sixers believe they match up better with the Bulls than the Heat is they think it’s easier to disrupt the Bulls’ offense, which runs through Rose (21.8 points, 7.9 assists)., than the Heat’s three-headed monster.
But Watson, Rose’s backup, has hurt the Sixers with two 20-point efforts, as was mentioned earlier in this article. Lucas has played better late in the season, as he’s seen more action. Ronnie Brewer averages 6.9 points as Hamilton’s backup.
The Sixers counter Rose with Jrue Holiday, who had 30 point in the third meeting between these teams. Expect Turner to also spend time defending Rose. Holiday (13.5 points) and Williams (14.9), who comes off the bench, are the Sixers’ top two scorers. Turner (9.4) and Jodie Meeks (8.4), both of whom were struggling offensively until a huge game Tuesday against the Bucks – Turner had 29 points, Meeks had 27) – must contribute at the offensive end in order for the Sixers to prevail.
There are some similarities between the Sixers and Bulls. Both have veteran power forwards, versatile small forwards and a center who is adept at passing. This is one reason the Sixers prefer facing the Bulls instead of the Heat; the Sixers have no answer for LeBron James and not much of an answer for Chris Bosh.
The versatile Andre Iguodala (12.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.5 assists) may be matched by Bulls small forward Luol Deng (15.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists), who does many of the same things as Iguodala. The power forward battle between veterans Carlos Boozer (15.0 points, 8.5 rebounds) and Elton Brand (11.0 points, 7.2 rebounds), left, will be interesting.
Neither Sixers center Spencer Hawes (9.6 points) nor Bulls center Joakim Noah (10.2 points) is counted upon to score a lot of points. Noah averages 9.8 rebounds per game, meaning he almost averages a double-double. He also averages 2.5 assists per game, almost the same as Hawes (2.6 assists, 7.3 rebounds), and blocks (1.44 per game) and alters shots. Hawes, however, will be coming off the bench. Rookie Lavoy Allen will start Game 1.
The Sixers bring Thaddeus Young (12.8 points) to provide a spark on offense. The Bulls bring Taj Gibson (7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds) primarily for his defense. The Bulls also use Korver at small forward to sink 3-point shots (43.5%) to prevent opposing defense from collapsing into the lane to cut off Rose’s penetration to the basket.
The Bulls lead the NBA in rebounding and second-chance points, so the matchup on the backboards has Collins concerned.
“Rebounding is going to be the key,” Collins said. “If we’re going to have any chance of winning that series, we’ve got to rebound the ball.”
The Sixers want to avoid a halfcourt game with the Bulls. The Bulls’ halfcourt defense, which Collins places with Boston’s as the two best in the NBA, is a big reason they allowed the fewest points in the league.
On the other hand, a run-and-gun game against a team featuring Rose could open the doors for being blown out.
This may sound contradictory, but the Sixers need to get out and run the floor when they have the opportunity, yet contain the Bulls’ fastbreak by forcing them to play a halfcourt offense.
Rose’s health is the key to this series. If he’s healthy, it will be difficult for the Sixers to prevail. If he’s not, they have a chance. But, as the Bulls showed in the third meeting between these teams this season, Rose’s absence does not guarantee a Sixers victory.
The first two playoff meetings between the Bulls and Sixers ended with the Bulls winning in five games. I envision history repeating itself. BULLS in 5.