Can the Bulls Recover and Win Their First-Round Series?
Well, the Washington Wizards have sure shown us that playoff inexperience is a moot point for them. Beating the Chicago Bulls twice in the Windy City, the Wizards have not only stolen home-court advantage, but may have stolen the first round of the 4-5 Eastern Conference matchup as well. The Bulls are in a deep hole, and with a 21-20 away record this season, they have got a tough hill to climb. Let’s look at some keys for the series thus far.
What the Wizards Have Done Right:
- Nene Hilario has not let his 21-game hiatus before the playoffs slow him down. He suffered an MCL sprain and didn't play from late February until early April. In Game 1 of the series, Hilario was no match for Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, scoring 24 points and collecting 8 rebounds. He single-handedly forced the Bulls to adjust their defensive focus from the backcourt to the frontcourt. When the Bulls' defense shifted to the paint in Game 2, Hilario scored 17, but this opened up opportunities at the perimeter, which allowed John Wall and Bradley Beal to score a combined 42. Hilario mentioned soreness in his knee after each game, so it'll be interesting to see if his health can withstand two more Wizard wins.
- Washington has been successful shooting beyond the arc. Shooting nearly 40% in Game 2, the Wizards have won the battle so far against the leading defense in the league.
- In our series preview, we said a key for the Wizards would be to take advantage of the Bulls' inefficiency on offense. With 10 steals in Game 2, Washington is exploiting Chicago's scoring issues like bullies taking a child's candy.
- The Wiz have closed out games. In Game 1, Washington was down 13 at one point in the contest. And in Game 2, they came back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win it. The Wizards have been able to lock down their defense and produce quality shots when it matters.
What the Bulls Have Done Wrong:
- We know the Bulls are offensively challenged. But not finding a way to score more than one field goal in the final eight minutes of Game 2 is inexcusable. The Bulls just have not found a consistent way to score points in the fourth quarter. When Chicago was up 10 points in the final quarter of Game 2, D.J. Augustin and Kirk Hinrich each jacked up a long-perimeter shot early in the shot clock three possessions in a row, which allowed Washington to sneak themselves back into the game. In Game 1, the Bulls actually only had eight turnovers in the entire game. For most teams, that would mean incredible offensive efficiency. For the Bulls, that means they were putting up bad shots that were easily rebounded by the Wizards.
- The top defense in the league hasn't shown up. The Bulls have allowed the Wizards to score over 100 points in both games, well above the Bulls' opponent season average of 91.8 points.
- There hasn't been enough Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy late in games. Coach Tom Thibodeau has a formula, and he likes to stick to it. He is known to keep starting power forward Boozer on the bench for the entirety of fourth quarters because of Boozer's defensive challenges. The reality is, however, that the Bulls need to focus on offense in the fourth quarter if they want to win a game in this series, which means the defensive-minded Thibodeau will need to shift his focus.
What Can We Expect Moving Forward?
This is the first time in franchise history that the Wizards have won two consecutive road games in the playoffs, so Washington has already shattered expectations for the series. For the Bulls to stay in the series, we can expect a strong start because they can't afford to get in a deep hole on the road. And for the Wizards, they need to dominate defensive rebounds to mute one of Chicago's only means of scoring: offensive rebounds. According to our algorithms based on the first two games, there's an 82% probability the Wizards will take the series. According to me, I wouldn't quit on the Bulls quite yet.