Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mad Props Playoff Preview - Bulls v. 76ers

#1 Chicago Bulls vs. #8 Philadelphia 76ers (Game 1, Saturday 1:00 PM, at Chicago)

2011-12 Meetings
February 1, @ Philadelphia – 76ers 98, Bulls 82: Still riding high, a balanced Philly attack (five guys with between 14 and 19 points) blows out the Bulls.

March 4, @ Philadelphia – Bulls 96, 76ers 91: A similarly balanced showing (17 from Thad Young, 16 from Jrue Holiday and three guys with 14) fall short against 35 from Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah’s 18 boards.

March 4, @ Chicago – Bulls 89, 76ers 80: No Rose, no problem. The Bulls overcome 30 points by Holiday, behind five double figure scorers.

Got It Made: Assuming a nicked-up Derrick Rose that missed virtually half the regular season needs a minute to regain his MVP form, and given the offensive struggles of Carlos Boozer (11 points, 7.3 rebounds per game, 42% FG) and Luol Deng (more on him in a second) against the Sixers, balance is likely to be the Bulls’ greatest offensive weapon in this matchup. Worth a look, however, is Joakim Noah on the boards. In three previous meetings this season, JoNo has grabbed an average of 12 boards against the Sixers (who allow a combined 25 rebounds/48 to opposing PF/C’s), and has grabbed 11+ boards in three of his last four home games against the Sixers, including 11 this past St. Paddy’s Day.

Judging by these teams previous meetings, the Bulls’ approach to stopping the Sixers is forcibly casting Jrue Holiday as primary scorer. In three meetings this season, Holiday averaged 21 points (and 4.7 assists), but required a whopping 20 shots per game to do so. Given the prevailing market (pts+assts lines have ranged from 18.5 and 20.5), Holiday would look to be in play in Round 1. As a result, however, anyone looking at Holiday as an upside play will be paying full retail.

Looking under the radar a bit, Thaddeus Young presents an intriguing opportunity. In three regular season meetings with the Bulls (against whom frontcourt players have shot an uncharacteristic 45%+ this season), Young averaged 14.7 points (including games of 19 and 17), shot better than 50% from the field and grabbed eight rebounds per game, including… 4.7 offensive rebounds (!!) per game. Additionally, it’s worth noting that Thad has fared fairly well at the United Center. Prior to this season’s eight-point showing (which came on 4-of-8 and was accompanied by five offensive rebounds), in his previous four trips to Chicago, Young has averaged 16.5 points (on just under 50% shooting) and 6.8 rebounds per game, three times grabbing at least three offensive boards. Lines for Thad may prove a tad challenging to find, but assuming they’re based on his season averages of 12.8 and 5, could provide decent value.

Look To Fade: The phonetic brothers, Luol and Lou Will. This matchup (read Andre Iguodala) has been a disaster of late for Deng, who’s shot 3-for-11 each of the last three times he’s suited up against the Sixers (last March 28, and twice this year, plus a DNP), and promises to have his hands full against Iggy, if not actually keeping him from scoring, then keeping him off the boards and actually getting free for a shot of his own.

On the flipside, we have Lou Williams, Philly’s bench spark, for whom this matchup is an absolute nightmare. In three outings against the Bulls this season Lou shot a putrid 25% (7-of-28) from the field and managed just 9.7 points per game. Only against the Hawks (against whom he at least made a third of his shots) did Williams take the floor multiple times this season with a lower scoring average. Throw in the fact that he’s topped 14 points (his 2011-12 season average was 14.9) just twice in his last seven outings against Chicago, along with the Bulls allowing a mere 17.2 points per 48 to opposing two guards, and Lou’s inevitable 14.5-15.5 scoring lines look a bit inflated.

The Call: Bulls in 5. The Sixers lacks the consistency, cohesion and, over the past couple of months, confidence to hang with the Bulls. They are, however, healthy and still boast an impressive stable of athletes, led by arguably the league’s best (no worse than top-3) perimeter defenders. The Bulls depth and stifling defense are sufficient for easy entry into the conference semis, but there’s liable to be at least a minor hiccup in Rose’s reintegration into the lineup. This, combined with the inability of either Boozer or Deng to generate much offense against the Philly frontcourt will allow the Sixers to steal one.

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