Insider offers a breakdown of every playoff series using an expert combination of scouting from Amin Elhassan and advanced metrics from Bradford Doolittle to answer three crucial questions. Also included are predictions from the writers, simulation results and the classic Log5 formula for determining matchup probabilities.
The Chicago Bulls have become that gum under the shoe of the NBA that just won't completely scrape off. Earlier this season, it seemed as though reality had finally caught up with them: another season-ending injury for Derrick Rose, a worn-down roster, a below-.500 record and what appeared to be a white-flag-waving trade of franchise favorite Luol Deng for cap relief and draft picks. Then something funny happened: Chicago started winning again, spurred on by All-Star center Joakim Noah.
Meanwhile, the Washington Wizards entered the season with high expectations after trading for Marcin Gortat and finally having a reasonably clean bill of health. They too underachieved early on, three games under .500 until mid-January, after which they went 28-19 to close the season. Which team is peaking at the right time? Here's a look at the Chicago Bulls-Washington Wizards first-round series.
Chicago Bulls at Washington Wizards
Eastern Conference playoffs
QUESTION 1: Which team will win the battle in the frontcourt?
Elhassan: I think this matchup is a lot closer than one would assume at first blush. Nene is the type of big who commands the respect of Noah, which in turn doesn't allow him to be as helpful defensively on other actions. Nene's physicality and quick feet can give Noah problems, because he'll initiate contact with an immobilizing hit to the chest before attacking the smaller Noah. Moreover, Carlos Boozer is a sieve, taking away the option of switching Noah onto Gortat to give him more leeway for help defense. Of course, Chicago has the luxury of bringing Taj Gibson off the bench, eliminating that advantage, and also of throwing Nazr Mohammed out to match Nene's strength. Still, it bears noting that Chicago's lone victory against Washington came when Nene sat out.