Everyone expected the Bulls to finish up their first-round series in four or five games, and that’s exactly what they would do with a win at home against the Pacers tonight. However, each of the first four games has been far more competitive than most people thought they would be, and the Pacers have shown that the Bulls do have some weaknesses. Here’s what the Bulls need to do to end the series tonight:
– Derrick Rose’s ankle is obviously the big concern for the Bulls in this game. Rose’s ability to get to the rim at will in Game 1 of the series propelled the Bulls to a win, but he’s gotten a little bit worse in each subsequent game, and the Pacers were able to contain him effectively in Game 4. The Bulls’ secondary offensive options, namely Carlos Boozer, haven’t been doing much in this series, and Rose’s jumper has completely abandoned him. If Rose’s ankle prevents him from getting penetration and, the Bulls could have a very long night on offense.
– The Pacers don’t need to be great offensively to beat the Bulls, but they will make things a lot easier on themselves if they can manage to make some shots. Danny Granger’s quick-trigger jumpers have been fairly effective, but they don’t open things up for his teammates, and the Pacers will need somebody else to get going if they want to have any sustainable offensive success. Darren Collison’s decision-making has been iffy, Tyler Hansborough’s shooting success in Game 1 hasn’t been repeated, Josh McRoberts has been all over the place, and Roy Hibbert has been forced to rush things in the post. It’s hard to play your offensive game against the best defensive team in the league, but a bit more patience in the half-court could serve the Pacers well.
– The Bulls could really use more production from their bench, which may have been the best bench in the league in the regular season. Taj Gibson filled in admirably for Carlos Boozer when he was hurt in the regular season, but he’s done little to take the pressure of of Boozer against the Pacers. C.J. Watson hasn’t been able to spell Rose effectively. Ronnie Brewer isn’t an NBA rotation player because of his scoring prowess, but he needs to make more than a third of his shots. Kurt Thomas has been reliable and Kyle Korver has been a life-saver for the Bulls, but they need more players making contributions.
If Rose’s ankle is close to 100%, the Bulls should be able to finish up the series tonight, and they may very well have an easier time with the Magic or Hawks than they have with the Pacers; matchups are everything in the playoffs. But if the Pacers manage to contain Rose again, Chicago’s supporting cast stays dormant, and the Pacers can make a few shots, this series could actually go back to Indiana.