Tom Thibodeau won the NBA’s Coach of the Year award a year ago and deserves tremendous consideration again this year for having the Chicago Bulls back atop of the Eastern Conference. Even with last year’s MVP Derrick Rose out for 26 games this season, the team has locked down the No. 1 seed and home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Bulls are one of the top defensive and rebounding teams in the NBA. These two components have helped them return to the playoffs without Rose. But for this team to win multiple playoff series and return to the Eastern Conference finals, they need a healthy Rose. His ability to get into the teeth of the defense and create baskets for himself and others is what makes this team special offensively. Without Rose at close to 100 percent, the Bulls are relegated to way too many jump shots and cannot get past the elite teams in the East playing that way.
The Philadelphia 76ers had been melting down over the latter stages of the regular season and barely slipped into the eighth playoff position. They started the season with a stable roster from last season and raced out to a 20-9 record, doing it with defense, effort and a favorable schedule. But since that point, they have gone 15-22; this has caused them to drop from a favorable matchup with the Atlanta Hawks to playing the No 1 seed in the East, the Chicago Bulls.
As teams have rounded into shape and improved, the Sixers’ woeful offense has been thoroughly exposed. The Sixers team defense has remained stellar until recently but their offense has struggled mightily and their youth has come back to haunt them. The Sixers’ young players, who started out playing team basketball early in the season, have recently begun to complain, make excuses and worry only about themselves. This behavior does not bode well for them in the playoffs, where a team’s problems are all exposed.
The only possible bright spot regarding the Sixers’ negative momentum coming into the playoffs is that they were in a similar situation last season. They hit a wall and finished the season 11-12, but recovered in the playoffs, pushing the Miami Heat in each game of the first round before falling in five games. The Sixers hope they can quickly recover from this free fall they have been in once the playoffs start and pull off an upset of the Bulls.
• Chicago will be going up against one of the top defenses in the league. The Sixers rank second in points allowed (89.2), third in field goal percentage defense (42.5 percent) and sixth in 3-point field goal percentage defense (33.0).
• The Bulls will be selective in their running game, but when Rose has the ball in his hands he can push the ball from foul line to foul line with tremendous speed. He is so powerful and explosive that in transition it is extremely difficult to defend him with just one defender. The Bulls average 13.6 points on the fast break.
• Bulls are a very organized and predictable offensive team. They know exactly what they are trying to do and are an excellent passing team. They are fourth in the NBA in assists with 23.0 per game.
• The Bulls are the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the NBA. Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik will pound the glass against the Sixers. They average 14.0 offensive rebounds per game combined.
• Tom Thibodeau has utilized his bench throughout the regular season to deal with the compressed schedule. The play of C.J. Watson and John Lucas has kept the Bulls afloat without Rose. Gibson is a starter on half of the teams in the NBA. The Chicago bench is a plus-8.3 differential compared to its opponents.
• If Rose is completely healthy they will run a number of pick-and-rolls for him and let him play off them. He is a terrific player attacking the paint. Rose is so explosive and strong that if he gets deep penetration he is unstoppable.
• The Bulls will attempt to get Carlos Boozer going early with direct post-ups and cross screens into post-ups. He is an excellent scorer off the block with an efficient jump shot. When he is engaged in the game early and has his shot going the Bulls are difficult to beat.
• The Bulls will also utilize Rip Hamilton and Kyle Korver off screens. Not only are they terrific shooters in spot-up situations but the two perimeter players are very effective running off multiple screens and creating offense for themselves.
• The Bulls do not run anything special for Luol Deng. Deng is the second-leading scorer on the team with 15.5 points per game due to his ability to make shots, occasionally put the ball on the floor and his ability to shoot from the 3 point line.
• The Philadelphia offense, which has been anemic at times this season, will struggle against the No. 1 team in points allowed in the NBA (88.4) and No. 2 team in field goal percentage defense (42.3 percent).
• The Sixers do not score in the paint. They are 23rd in the NBA in paint points with 38.9. They are a jump-shooting team that works hard to get great shot selection but have a difficult time scoring because of the high volume of long jump shots.
• The Sixers like to defend, rebound and run. They are one of the elite teams in the NBA in transition. They have young, athletic legs and can finish in transition. The Sixers score 15.5 points on the fast break which ranks them 8th in the NBA.
• They like to throw the ball ahead and make early post entries and play off of them. Looking for early cuts, reversal of the ball and quick drives to the rim.
• The Sixers offense is an equal opportunity offense. They have eight players that attempt 7.1-12.2 field goal attempts per game. This is one of their main problems. They are more of a college team than an NBA team. They do not have an All-Star caliber player who can make shots in critical portions of the game and carry the Sixers in the fourth quarter.
• The Sixers do not shoot a high volume of 3-point shots in their offense (14.6 attempts per game) but they do get quality 3-point shots and make a high percentage (36.4 percent) which is eighth in the NBA.
• One indicator of the Sixers' problems offensively is their lack of free throw attempts. The Sixers are a jump-shooting team that lacks the post presence and one-on-one breakdown skills to get to the rim. They are dead last in the NBA in free throw attempts shooting only 18.2 per game.
• The Sixers do not beat themselves. They defend, take high quality shots and do not turn the ball over. They are the No. 1 team in the NBA in fewest turnovers, with 11.2 per game.
• The Sixers are a young team that struggles mightily in close games. Their fourth-quarter execution has been extremely poor, due to not having a go-to scorer. They are 4-10 in games decided by five points or fewer.
Derrick Rose: Rose comes into this series after a very difficult year in which he suffered numerous injuries and only played in 38 games. He has played in only four games over the last month and a half. However, Rose has been spectacular when he has been on the court, averaging 22.8 points and 7.9 assists per game. Rose is a one-man fast break pushing the ball from foul line to foul line and creating offense for himself and others. The Bulls will run a high volume of pick-and-rolls for Rose and he will attack the Philly guards and get to the rim. Rose’s field goal percentage has dipped from 46.4 percent for his career to 43.7 this season. When he makes shots from the perimeter, he is almost unstoppable.
Jrue Holiday: The Sixers need consistent scoring from Holiday if they are going to have any chance in this series. He may be the most talented player on the roster and is good enough to take over games but just doesn’t. Holiday needs to step up his game in this series versus Derrick Rose. He averaged 13.5 points per game and 4.5 assists during regular season.
Richard Hamilton: Hamilton has appeared in only 26 games this season, but he is playing his best basketball at the perfect time. He has been healthy the past 10 games and has been averaging 13 points per game while shooting 47 percent. Hamilton has developed into a viable scoring option for the Bulls. They will use him in catch-and-shoot plays coming off screens and as a spot-up shooter. The Bulls acquired Hamilton to make shots in the playoffs and take some pressure off of Rose.
Jodie Meeks: Although Meeks starts for the Sixers, he is truly only a role player. He is not as talented as Lou Williams and Evan Turner who come off the bench. Doug Collins utilizes Meeks as someone who spaces the floor and creates opportunities for Holiday, Andre Igoudala and Elton Brand because of his ability to shoot from deep range. He is shooting 36.5 percent from the 3-point line this season but has struggled late in the season, shooting only 28.6 percent in the last five games.
Luol Deng: Deng comes into this series having had a very solid year. He scored 15.3 points per game and averaged 6.5 rebounds per game. Even though he has struggled with a wrist injury all season, his scoring and rebounding numbers are near his career averages. Chicago needs Deng to establish himself as a secondary scoring option early in this series to take some of the load off of Rose. He will have to try to shut down Igoudala on the defensive end using his athleticism and length. Look for Deng to take advantage of his size as he loves to rise up and shoot over smaller defenders.
Andre Igoudala: Igoudala made the All-Star team but he is having a career-low output scoring only 12.4 points per game. He is a terrific defender, has tremendous athleticism and can finish at the rim. He does a little of everything: scoring, rebounding and dishing out assists, but his team truly needs more from a player who makes $13.5 million. His 3-point shooting numbers are up this season to 39.4 percent from his career average of 33.1 percent
Carlos Boozer: The injury-prone Boozer was a mainstay in the Bulls' starting lineup this year, not missing a single game. He comes into the playoffs playing at a very high level, putting up double-doubles in five of the past six games. Look for the Bulls to feed Boozer early with deep touches in this series to establish a post presence. Boozer is the Bulls' second-leading rebounder at 8.5 rebounds per game, but they need him to be a more consistent defensive player throughout the playoffs.
Elton Brand: Brand led the Sixers in scoring and rebounding a year ago, but this has been a tough year for him. He attempts to overpower power forwards and centers but due to wear and tear to his body he can no longer do it. He does bring toughness to the Sixers' frontcourt and Doug Collins has attempted to manage his minutes to keep him healthy. Brand has a high basketball IQ and utilized it to score 11.0 points and grab 7.2 rebounds per game this season. It is extremely important for him to neutralize Boozer in the post.
Joakim Noah: Noah has quietly developed into one the NBA’s top centers. He plays with incredible energy and enthusiasm. He averaged just shy of a double-double this past year with 10.2 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Stats do not do justice to the impact Noah has on the court for the Bulls. He is one of the NBA’s best help defenders and plays with a reckless abandon. Noah is tremendously active on the offensive glass, averaging 3.8 offensive boards per game.
Nikola Vucevic: Vucevic was able to help the Sixers early in the season, but struggled as the season progressed. Recently, he has been inserted into the starting lineup for Hawes. He has started 15 of his 51 games he has played in this season. Vucevic has averaged 13.4 minutes, 4.6 points and shot 38.3 percent in the 11 games he has played in April. The Sixers could use him in this series due to the productivity of the Chicago big men.
C.J. Watson: Watson has been an extremely valuable player for the Bulls this season. He has filled in for Rose, starting 25 games and averaging 9.7 points and 4.1 assists per game. Watson is more of a facilitator than Rose because he does not have the explosive speed and power that Rose possesses. He does a very good job of getting the Bulls into their sets and getting Deng, Hamilton and Korver open looks.
Kyle Korver: Korver could be the wildcard for the Chicago Bulls throughout the playoffs. When he is making shots he can be a key contributor for the Bulls but not if his minutes have to be limited. Korver gets most of his looks in catch-and-shoot situations, spacing the floor or running off screens and pulling a quick 3-point shot. He shot 43.0 percent from 3-point line this season. Korver may struggle to defend more athletic wings but his ability to space the court helps Rose immensely.
Taj Gibson: Gibson is a terrific role player who plays with tremendous energy. He would start on more than half of the NBA teams. Gibson is a terrific interior defender who coach Tom Thibodeau relies on especially late in games. Gibson is a relentless rebounder averaging 5.3 per game and 2.2 on the offensive glass.
Ronnie Brewer: Brewer will be used off the bench for defense and energy. He has tremendous length and can guard multiple positions. He causes problems for the Bulls offensively because of his lack of a perimeter shot. Teams sag off of him because he only shot 27.0 percent from the 3-point line and with him on the floor Rose has less room to operate.
Omer Asik: Asik is a quiet contributor for the Bulls. He is a high-volume rebounder, grabbing 5.3 rebounds while only averaging 14.0 minutes per game. He utilizes his size and basketball IQ and is a solid interior defender who has averaged 1.0 blocks per game this season.
John Lucas: Lucas has been a pleasant surprise for the Bulls this year. He has averaged career high minutes with 14.0 per game and points at 7.5 per game. Can score in bunches in limited minutes.
Lou Williams: Lou Williams is a big-time scorer and he produces. He may be a one-dimensional player but the fact that the Sixers' leading scorer (14.9 points per game) comes off the bench says all you need to know about the Sixers' offense. He is not a superstar but he is a productive perimeter player and should probably be a starter for this team. This team needs him on the court and in the game against one of the best defenses in the NBA.
Thaddeus Young: Young has had a pretty consistent year for the Sixers. He is a gifted athlete with tremendous bounce. He needs to continue to develop his skill set to be the best player he can be. He appears to have leveled off this season. It is obvious he has gotten worn down going up against bigger, stronger opponents this season.
Evan Turner: Turner may be the second-most talented player on the Sixers roster. He would be a starter on numerous NBA teams. He is at his best when he has the ball in his hands, scoring and doling out assists. He is an excellent rebounder who will be called on to help his frontcourt in this series against the relentless attack of the Chicago big men. Turner has improved his game this season. He has tremendous size and playmaking abilities. He could be a surprise player in this series. Philly needs to play the guys that can make plays and Turner can do that.
Spencer Hawes: Because of a strained Achilles, Hawes has missed major time this season. Earlier in the year, he was able to get Doug Collins 10 points and 10 rebounds but that production has been curtailed. He has not been able to log heavy minutes and his injuries have stunted his progress with the Sixers. The Sixers need Hawes to play well in this series to combat the frontline of Noah and Asik. The Bulls are the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the NBA and the Sixers need Hawes' size and rebounding to stay with the Bulls.