NBA Playoff Preview: Chicago Bulls vs. Washington Wizards

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source: Getty Images
SEASON RECORDS

Chicago Bulls: 48-34

Washington Wizards: 44-38

KEY INJURIES

Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose (still out for the season)

Washington Wizards: none

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Chicago Bulls:  Offense 99.7 (28th in NBA), Defense 97.8 (2nd in NBA)

Washington Wizards: Offense 103.3 (18th in NBA), Defense 102.4 (10th in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) Will Randy Wittman bridge the coaching gap with Tom Thibodeau?

Thibodeau won Coach of the Year his first season with the Bulls, led them to a better record the following year and then guiding them back to the playoffs both years since without their top player. He’s solidly in the mix for Coach of the Year again this season.

Randy Wittman, on the other hand, has the worst career record of all time (minimum: 400 games) and has never made the playoffs before.

Wittman needn’t out-scheme Thibodeau, but the Wizards coach can’t come across as relatively clueless if his team is to win. Making adjustments through a playoff series is a difficult job, and it’s oh so important when teams are relatively evenly matched.

Thibodeau has the advantage in coaching experience and probably acumen, too. Wittman needs to at least hold his own.

2) Will the Wizards avoid long 2s?

Thibodeau’s teams excel at running opponents off the 3-point arc, and this season is no exception. The Bulls force 49.5 percent of their opponents shots from 16+ feet to come inside the arc – most in the league.

The Wizards, especially John Wall and Bradley Beal, will gladly shoot those inefficient long 2s by design. That’s foolish, but what can they do now?

The best way for Washington to combat this trend – assuming an offensive overhaul isn’t feasible – is to get out in transition. The Wizards force plenty of turnovers, and the Bulls don’t excel at taking care of the ball. Get John Wall in the open court, and suddenly, Washington’s offense looks a lot better.

3) How much can Nene play?

Nene is a solidifying force on both ends for the Wizards. Not only is he a productive player, he fits his role around his teammates nearly perfectly.

But he averages just 29.4 minutes per game.

On the other hand, the Bulls’ do-everything player – Joakim Noah – averages 35.3 minutes per game. That’s why he’s an MVP ballot candidate. (Not that playing more would get Nene there, but assuming a large role boosts Noah’s case).

Nene has played more than 35 minutes just 15 times since the Wizards traded for him during the 2011-12 season. He’s frequently injured or at least hobbled, and the Bulls’ physicality will do him no favors.

The more available Nene is, the better Washington’s chances of winning. It’s a big question mark – unlike with Noah, whom the Bulls can depend on for big minutes.

PREDICTION

Does it seem like all the keys are geared toward the Washington? That’s because they are. Chicago is in the driver’s seat, and it’s up to the Wizards to change that. It will take more than idly watching the Bulls’ anemic offense cost them a game or two.

Bulls in 6

Grizzlies’ James Ennis fouls out then hits half-court shot (video)

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Against the Pacers last night, James Ennis missed all three of his 3-point attempts… that counted. And he makes this one after fouling out?

Mike Conley more than picked up the slack to lead the Grizzlies to victory.

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Goran Dragic is very good at alley-oops.

Too good.

With a “shot” like that falling, the Heat trounced the Knicks, 105-88.

Hawks’ Tim Hardaway Jr. kneed in the groin while defending 76ers (video)

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Since trading for him, the Hawks have gotten Tim Hardaway Jr. to buy in defensively.

After this help defense on 76ers center Richaun Holmes cost him dearly, I wouldn’t blame Hardaway if he gave up on the endeavor entirely.