The 76ers are scheduled to tip-off at 1:00 EST against the Bulls. Here’s 5 things to watch for (up from the usual three, because it’s the playoffs and, to steal a saying from Spike Eskin and others, we’re ALL-IN):
1. Starting Strong
If the Sixers have any chance of winning tomorrow in Chicago, they would have to get off to a strong first quarter start. Usually, this isn’t the Sixers’ forte – they win with depth, coming off the bench with three to four possible NBA starters to go along with their starting five. The only problem with this against Chicago is that their bench is as good if not better than ours. While Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams are more talented scorers than anyone Chicago can muster, the “Bench Mob”, as it is affectionately called in the Windy City goes five deep and boasts a trio of excellent defensive players, plus two knock down shooters. The Bulls bench may struggle at times to score as individuals, but with their role players mixed and matched with the starters you’ll see very little difference between lineups. It’s what makes Chicago such a dangerous team – there’s very little fall-off through the 11th or 12th guy on the bench.
Thus, it’s important that the bench isn’t tasked with bringing the team out of a hole. The Sixers will need to play their brand of shutdown defense and get some offensive production from some combination of their starting five. The obvious candidates for offense are backcourt teammates Jrue Holiday and Jodie Meeks, along with some shots from Elton Brand.
2. Fast Break Points
The Sixers have had the reputation of being an exciting, open court team. And while Andre Iguodala can still dunk with the best of them, the team’s identity has moved on from that point. Yes, they still like to get easy transition points, but they don’t come by quite as often as in year’s past. The Sixers ranked 8th in the NBA during the regular season, according to teamrankings.com, with just more than 15 per game. They’ll need at least that to compete with Chicago. Let’s face it: the Sixers have no shot at downing the Bulls in any game if they don’t get easy baskets. Since the Sixers get to the foul line so rarely, and aren’t particularly great at making them when they get there, fast break opportunities present the best chance to put some points on the board.
How to create those opportunities for fast break points is the main issue. The primarily facilitator of fast break points is turnovers. Chicago does not commit that many turnovers – their 14 per game is just less than 3 more than the Sixers commit, but still among the league leaders. The Sixers defenders may have to gamble and take some chances for steals that they ordinarily wouldn’t take. Meanwhile, it will also be an issue for the Bulls, seeing that the Sixers commit fewer turnovers than any team in the last 5 seasons.
The Sixers need to gap the Bulls in this category to win the game, in my opinion.
3. The Energy of Joakim Noah
Joakim Noah might be one of the more aggravating players in the NBA to compete against, both because of his attitude and his skill set. He’s not the most physically gifted player on the floor. But his intensity and passion (you could also say his “motor”) is what makes him an extremely effective NBA player. He’s not a scorer but he doesn’t need to be: all he does is make energy plays, grab rebounds, defend, and get under everyone’s collective skin.
It will likely be Elton Brand’s job to fight with Noah on the glass. Brand’s not an especially good defensive rebounder, so Noah may prove to be too much man to handle. And with the game in Chicago, he’ll have the crowd behind him.
4. Lavoy Allen
Surprise!: Lavoy Allen (aka Mr. 500) is now your 76ers starting center! Now, he’s certainly not as bad as his #NBArank standing would lead you to believe. But if you told me two weeks ago he would start this game, I’d have told you to go away. He regularly received DNP-CDs at that point. In desperation for something, he re-entered the rotation and did something well, although I don’t know exactly what that is. He rebounded a little. He passed some. He made a couple of shots. Apparently, that was good enough to start in this series. If he can give us anything, that’s great. The main goal is for him not to hurt us. He needs to limit the mistakes and play within his abilities on offense while competing defense. Anything else he does is gravy.
5. How healthy is Derrick Rose?
Derrick Rose is going to play in game 1. That’s not in question; what we don’t know is how healthy he is. Based on the plethora of injuries he’s endured so far this season, some more time off for him would be optimal. But because these games matter and such, he’ll play. But will he play well? And will be get re-injured in what is expected to be a tough, physical series? We don’t know. For Bulls fans who have championship aspirations, this has to be disconcerting. It’s the biggest question about this entire series.
While he may not need to carry the Bulls to a game one victory, his performance will show whether now he is ready for more. If he is, Chicago fans can breathe a bit. If not? Then the Sixers may be able to give the Bulls more than they could handle for 7 grueling games.
Game 1 Prediction: Bulls 90, Sixers 80. I expect Derrick Rose to play well but not MVP-level well, and for the Bulls reserves to make a huge impact to seal the win.