Coming into the playoffs, I assumed the Bulls would face All-Star center Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Well, surprise! The Atlanta Hawks crashed the party. Atlanta defeated Orlando 84-81 in Game 6 on Thursday night, clinching a 4-2 series win.
If you're a Bulls fan, this scenario seems almost too good to be true. Hell, it might be too good to be true. This is a favorable matchup for the Bulls. As a matter of fact, it's an even more favorable matchup for Chicago than the Indiana Pacers were.
Now, the Hawks do have better players than Indiana. There's no question about that. But Atlanta is a jumpshooting team. It's two best scorers are perimeter threats Joe Johnson and former Bull "Jack 'Em Up Jamal" Crawford (pictured), who never met a shot he didn't like. Hence, the nickname "Jack 'Em Up Jamal."
Atlanta doesn't have much depth, or physical presence inside, and they don't guard that hard. Oh, forward Al Horford is a good player. He gave the Bulls a problem in the one game the Hawks won over Chicago this year, but he's not a pure back-to-the-basket scorer by any means. He's more of a face-up scorer, not unlike the Bulls' Carlos Boozer. The Hawks' offense is based upon isolation plays and outside shots. Those are two things the Bulls defend very well.
The Hawks don't have a single player that scares you, either offensively or defensively. The best defender on their team is probably former Bull Kirk Hinrich, and he's headed to the MRI machine after hurting his hamstring against Orlando. Their bench isn't good at all once you get past Crawford, who is the Sixth Man of the Year.
Considering all this, the general consensus around town seems to be the Bulls will win this in five or six games. Meanwhile, Boston and Miami will be beating the crap out of each other on the other side of the bracket. On paper, this sets up real nice. Of course, the game isn't played on paper, and that's why we watch.
Here are the relevant numbers for the upcoming series. All individual stats are from Round 1 of the playoffs.
Game 1: Monday at Chicago, 7 p.m. (TNT)
Game 2: Wednesday at Chicago, 7 p.m. (TNT)
Game 3: May 6 at Atlanta, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 4: May 8 at Atlanta, 7 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5*: May 10 at Chicago, TBD (TNT)
Game 6*: May 12 at Atlanta, TBD (ESPN)
Game 7*: May 15 at Chicago, TBD (TNT)
F -- Luol Deng 18.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.6 apg
F -- Carlos Boozer 10.0 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.6 apg
C -- Joakim Noah 12.0 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.8 apg
G -- Keith Bogans 5.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 0.6 apg
G -- Derrick Rose 27.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 6.2 apg
F -- Josh Smith 14.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.3 apg
F -- Al Horford 12.0 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 3.7 apg
C -- Jason Collins 1.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 0.2 apg
G -- Joe Johnson 18.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.5 apg
G -- Kirk Hinrich 10.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.7 apg
Key Bulls reservers
G -- Kyle Korver 10.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.6 apg
G -- Ronnie Brewer 2.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.0 apg
F -- Taj Gibson 4.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.4 apg
Key Hawks reserves
G -- Jamal Crawford 20.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 2.8 apg
F -- Marvin Williams 6.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.8 apg
C -- Zaza Pachulia 2.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.6 apg
Season series (Bulls won 2-1, home team in CAPS)
March 2: HAWKS 83, Bulls 80
March 11: BULLS 94, Hawks 76
March 22: Bulls 114, Hawks 81