With the NBA playoffs starting a week from today, there is only one matchup that is certain until now after the Chicago Bulls’ win over the Cleveland Cavaliers last night helped them clinch the number one seed in the Eastern Conference since the great Michael Jordan’s last year with the Bulls. The road to the NBA Finals for the Bulls will kick off with the eighth seeded Indiana Pacers, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2006.
I normally don’t get excited about first round series, since a lot of sweeps take place, and this series may happen to be one of them. Given how the Bulls defeated the Boston Celtics Thursday night, I highly doubt with that consistency any team in the East can take them down. The Indiana Pacers, who are going to have another losing season this year, should be grateful to be found in the Eastern Conference, as teams like the Houston Rockets and the Phoenix Suns would have easily taken their places had they been in the East. Also, the race for the eighth seed was a disappointing one, as the Milwaukee Bucks and the Michael Jordan-owned Charlotte Bobcats never manned up to the situation or played with the necessary power given what was at stake, making the Pacers’ road to the playoffs not match the intensity.
Everyone knows who coaches the Chicago Bulls :Tom “Thibs” Thibodeau. This is the guy who, as a coach assistant, instilled the word “defense” in the Boston Celtics ever since they acquired their Big Three back in the 2007-2008 season and led them to play with such intensity. And if it comes to me, I believe he deserves more credit than Doc Rivers for the Celtics’ success in the past few years and that focus on D. So it was no surprise to me that so many teams, including the Chicago Bulls, wanted to land him as a coach after he decided to give interviews. From early on in the season, Coach Thibs had his leader, MVP candidate Derrick Rose, bought into the concept of defense, and when you got your leader in, the whole team follows, which was the Bulls’ case. I would have Thibodeau as a candidate for Coach of the Year, given what he did to this team and how he made the most out of what he had given the absences of power forwards Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah due to injuries for extended periods during the season.
Before the All-Star break, no one really saw the Indiana Pacers fighting for the eighth seed, given that at a time they were 10 games below .500 and things weren’t going smoothly. Then the Pacers kicked off coach Jim Brien and put assistant coach Frank Vogel instead, and suddenly the team took on a whole new identity and had a strong start with Vogel. Given also his first coaching year after serving as an assistant fo
r the Pacers since 2007 after serving with teams like Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics as an assistant or video coordinator or even scout. Vogel maximized seldom-used center Roy Hibbert’s abilities and got the Pacers on a whole new run. Yet, the Pacers’ 8-10 record in March, which included a 26 point loss to the cellar ranking Minnesota Timberwolves, also makes you question how much he can get out of them.
Winner: Tom Thibodeau
“MVP, MVP, MVP!” That’s the kind of chants you’d hear if you were at the United Center in Illinois or rather any game that the Chicago Bulls are playing in. Why? It’s simple. Derrick Rose, who questioned at the beginning of the NBA season why wouldn’t he be considered in the MVP race, is playing like an MVP all right. Averaging 25 points and 8 assists a game, Derrick Rose has carried the Chicago Bulls on his shoulders despite missing both Noah and Boozer for over 60 games combined and had his team slowly rise in the standings to eventually take reign of the East. Sweeping the Miami Heat 3-0 and beating the Celtics in the last two games, including playing around Celtics’ guard Rajon Rondo all night, I can’t see how he can be stopped.
Danny Granger has been the leader the Pacers needed, but let’s face it; nobody’s playing like Rose is playing right now, including him. Granger’s 20 points a game can be easily outmatched by any other Bull, and not necessarily Derrick Rose. Also, I’m expecting small forward Luol Deng to make Granger’s life a bit hard on defense.
Winner: Derrick Rose.
The other 11 players:
What else could you want more when you have a front line of Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, and Kurt Thomas? Add to the mix Luol Deng, and you got one hell of a long team. One has to admit that the shooting guard position in Chicago is a bit weak compared to the rest, but the other 4 players on the floor will definitely more than compensate for that. The chemistry that both Boozer and Noah are slowly developing on the floor and the fact that they got the average-defender Rose’s back on defense makes this team seem like an unstoppable unit with the team first mentality.
In the last game vs the Bulls on March 18, the rest of the Pacers team had to step up in order to earn that lone victory vs the Bulls in overtime. How often will Tyler Hansbrough be able to knock down 29 points against the Bulls? Darren Collision doesn’t really have much of a chance overtaking Derrick Rose at the point guard position. Given also that the Pacers aren’t that consistent, although in that particular March mentioned above, they were also able to knock down teams like the Boston Celtics. Yet I still have to give my nod to the Bulls here.
Winners: The rest of the Bulls.
In conclusion, given that the season series ended 3-1 for the Bulls, with the lone Indiana victory coming as previously mentioned in OT, I hardly doubt to see a Cinderella story, much less an Indiana win in any of the 4 games, given how consistent the Bulls have played all season and not letting their guard down.
Final Result of series: 4-0 (A 4-1 is feasible, given that the Pacers may win the first one at home.)