If the first round of the NBA Playoffs was any indication, the second round should be pretty special. TNT’s numbers were astounding: Games averaged a staggering 4.17 million viewers, and the round as a whole was the most viewed first round in NBA playoff history. In the second round, there are some fierce matchups that should continue TNT's rating binge. But, despite what some commentators are saying, the series between the Bulls and Hawks ain't going to be one of them.
(1) Chicago vs. (5) Atlanta
The Bulls got some good news over the last week. On Sunday, coach Tom Thibodeau won NBA Coach of the Year. But more importantly, the Bulls found out Thursday night that they get to play Atlanta instead of Orlando in the second round. This is a very tough matchup for a Hawks team that struggles to score in the half court and who’s best player, Al Horford, has to go up against Joakim Noah, one of the best interior defenders in the league.
With Thibodeau at the helm, Chicago has become the game’s premier defensive unit, using a slew of wing defenders to bother perimeter scorers and funnel them to Noah underneath. Ronnie Brewer and Luol Deng will make matters very difficult for Atlanta’s talented scoring duo of Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, turning them into high volume shooters instead of efficient ones.
Josh Smith is the key for Atlanta to extend the series. He is they one guy that Chicago’s suffocating defense doesn’t really have an answer for. If Smith can get into the lane and force Noah and Carlos Boozer into foul trouble early in games, then Atlanta can make a series of it. I just don’t think he can do so consistently. Chicago is too predicated on help defense to allow it.
Moreover, with elite defender Kirk Hinrich ailing (doubtful for the series with a strained hamstring), Atlanta has nobody to defend Derrick Rose. Hinrich, who was a teammate of Rose in Chicago, gives the Hawks a real presence on the perimeter and can at least slow Rose down. Without him in the lineup, the Hawks have don’t feature any good wing defenders, making them vulnerable to an onslaught of Kyle Korver threes and forcing them to rely solely on their bigs at the rim to not only thwart drivers, but also contain Noah and Carlos Boozer.
Prediction: Bulls in 5