It’s beginning to look like we may never know what Tom Thibodeau can do with a full Bulls roster, but in the end that really may not matter. As the cantankerous coach has said time and time again, this team has more than enough to win. Most would have been skeptical if you said on the first day of the season that this team would make the NBA playoffs without their two best players. When Derrick Rose succumbed to another knee injury and Luol Deng was traded for cap purposes, that would have been the sign for most teams to pack it in. Instead, the Bulls used their lockdown defense, the key signing of D.J. Augustin and MVP-caliber play from Joakim Noah to emerge as one of the toughest teams in the Eastern conference.
On the other side, the Wizards are one of the more remarkable stories of the 2013-2014 season. After only winning 29 games last year, Randy Wittman found a way to turn this team around and improve that number by 14 games. Led by superstar in the making John Wall, the Wizards can definitely get the ball in the hoop. They’re even better at doing that when the spotty Trevor Ariza is hitting his shots. The question isn’t whether they have the talent to score, but whether their young players will find a way to do it against against the stingy Bulls defense.
Key to the Series
- Force turnovers. The Bulls were firmly in the middle of the pack this season in terms of turnover differential, but with the quick hands of Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah, this team always has the potential to get a lot of takeaways. The Wizards were one of the worst teams in the league in terms of turnover differential (-1.3), and their playoff inexperience could widen that gap even further.
- Don’t go stale on offense. Far too many times this season the Bulls would struggle to put the ball in the hoop and those struggles would last for a full quarter or more. While Augustin’s play has been admirable, without Rose this team simply doesn’t have a guy who can create his own shots and draw defenses in. When Hinrich, Butler and Boozer are getting their shots to fall, the Bulls can play with anyone. When the jumpshots stop falling is when they can lose to anyone.
- Match the intensity of the Bulls. The Bulls are one of the most focused teams in the league, especially when it comes to defense and the Wizards simply don’t have that same reputation. If they’re lackadaisical at all on offense, they’re not going to be able to do anything against the Bulls’ meticulous sets and strong rebounding. If the Wizards can be on their game on the defensive end, they have the potential to smother the Bulls weak offense, which could be the biggest key of all.
- Avoid mid-range shots. By this point, we all know how inefficient the long two is, yet some teams are still content to jack them up. The Bulls are great at forcing their opponents off the three-point line. With Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah inside, driving usually isn’t all that appealing of an option either. What they need to do is get out in transition, find some easy shots and keep Beal and Wall from shooting long twos.
Kirk Hinrich – Hinrich has never been an offensive powerhouse, but at times this season he’s been absolutely dismal. He’s a streaky as anyone on the roster, and the Bulls are going to need him streaking in the right direction if they want to lock this series down. In Bulls wins this year, Hinrich averaged 10 ppg. In their losses that number fell to 7.8 ppg. He won’t be asked to shoulder the load on offense, but he’ll have to play at a level where he isn’t hurting the team, especially since they’ll need him on the floor to guard John Wall.
Bulls in 5
The Bulls are too experienced and their defense is too strong for the Wizards to compete. There will be times throughout the series where the Bulls go into an offensive funk and the Wizards seem to be putting it together, but in the end this will simply be a stepping stone for future solid seasons for Washington.