This post is part of our playoff preview series here at Hickory-High, complete with both statistical and video breakdowns. Check out the rest of the previews here.
The top seeded Bulls have a tough draw, as the 76ers come to town as a dangerous playoff team that can get production from a variety of players. This is going to be a very competitive series, and doesn’t feel like a 1 vs 8 match-up.
Chicago vs. Philadelphia Season Series
Bulls - ORB% - Chicago may not have a seven-footer who single-handidly dominates the glass, but no team in the league boxes out as well as the Bulls. With a 33.06 ORB%, Chicago led the NBA in cleaning up their own missed shots. On top of that, they prevented their opponents from getting second chances, their +6.96 difference in ORB% was the best mark in the NBA. The advantage becomes even more magnified when you take into account that the 76ers are a bottom five team when it comes to ORB%. Points figure to be hard to come by in this series, making second chances is as valuable as anything.
76ers - DRtg.- We often hear just how solid the Bulls’ defense is, while the 76ers are rarely in the national spotlight. But Philadelphia actually ranked ahead of Chicago in defensive rating this season, at 95.6 points allowed per 100 possessions. The 76ers have a rare situation with Andre Iguodala, who is their best player, and their defensive leader. Philly is 27-7 when their DRtg. is below their season average, proving that they feed off of a solid defensive effort. The Bulls aren’t a high scoring team, and it is reasonable to assume that they may struggle to produce against the stingy 76ers.
Players to Watch:
Bulls - Joakim Noah – I’ve touched on Philadelphia’s defensive prowess, a strength that will make the unique skill set of Noah even more important. The Bulls’ big man is a ferocious rebounder (9.8 boards per game), a solid free throw shooter (74.8%), and a capable scorer (10.2 points per game) but it is his passing ability that sets him a part. He averaged a career best 2.5 assists per game, and is always a threat to find the open man. His Assist Rate this season is better than Richard Hamilton and Kyle Korver. His ability to move the ball makes follow up passes out of their pick-and-rolls a serious weapon. He is a certain mismatch for whoever the 76ers elect to put on him.
76ers - Lou Williams – Points will be hard to come by in this opening series, and Philadelphia will often turn to Sweet Lou to provide scoring punch. The shooting guard has registered career highs in three-point percentage, points per game, and assist to turnover ratio. This is going to be a low scoring series, making the 76ers most efficient player (in terms of PER) vital to the success of the underdog. Philly has won the last 7 games in which Williams has shot at least 50%, and will need him to produce at a level like that if they want to beat the Bulls.
Combinations to Watch:
Bulls – Richard Hamilton and Taj Gibson – Two of the Bulls reserves need to be the best players on the court when they enter the game, and I believe they can be. We all know that Derrick Rose is far from 100% healthy, and if he can’t play 30-35 minutes, it’s Rip who is going to see an increase in playing time. He has stepped up of late, scoring more points than his season average, 11.6, in five of his last nine games. He’s played less minutes this season than in any season previous besides his rookie year, and should be ready to spell Rose for 20 solid minutes per game. As for Gibson, he is finishing on the interior at a better rate than at any other point in his career. Gibson is shooting 65% at the rim, and needs to convert when his guards set him up in position to score. The 76ers will use Brand and Hawes to defend the Bulls starting bigs, leaving lesser options to guard Gibson. This duo of reserves can fill in nicely for the Bulls starting options, and their depth may prove to be the deciding factor against Philadelphia.
76ers - Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand – The interior duo isn’t as talented as the Bulls combination of Carlos Boozer and Noah, but they are as responsible for the 76ers success as any other combination of players. Brand and Hawes rank second and third on Philadelphia in Win Score, trailing only Iguodala. They both clean the glass with a DRB% of at least 22.9, a main reason why the 76ers are so good at limiting second chances. This duo isn’t going to pour in 40 points, but if they can stop the Bulls bigs from being productive, this series could come down to the wire.
Last postseason these two teams played a five game set in which four of the games were decided by 8 points or less, and I envision a similar series this year. I think the 76ers can steal a game on the road, and split at home, but lack the firepower on offense to pull off the upset. The Bulls win this series in six games, with the majority of the games being decided in the final period.