That first round was less than inspiring. It is now time to lock and load like some body-count movie of the 80’s. The Bulls struggled more than expected against the young upstart Pacers. Was it a match-up problem? First round jitters? A team unfamiliar with playoff basketball? Emotions from Elizabeth Taylor’s death? Lucky enough for the Bulls, they are able answer some of these questions while facing another non-premier Eastern Conference foe, in the Atlanta Hawks. By securing the number one seed in the East, the Bulls are given another round to become familiar with the playoffs and figure things out, before going against either the Celts or Heat.
That is not to say that the Hawks are a pushover (try telling that to Jameer Nelson and the Magic). The ATL brings an athletic, offensive minded team to the UC tonight. Unfortunate for them is that this plays into the Bulls hands. The ATL loves the jumper, and the Bulls are particularly adept at defending just that. This does not mean that the Hawks will not go on their share of runs – jump shooting teams will do that. Yet, this will be countered by long cold spells as well. Plus, the best defender the Hawks can throw at Derrick Rose, former Bull Kirk Hinrich, is likely out for the series (though, he could just be pulling a D-Wade and be ready to start tonight). The ATL will likely start AL Horford and Josh Smith down low. The often uninterested Smith needs to press the Bulls and not let up for them to have a chance in this series. Horford is the player on their roster who worries me most. It was big Al who led the 17-point comeback win the first time these two teams met in the season. The former Florida teammate of Joakim Noah is big, athletic, and versitile.
On the Bulls side, there will be a couple of interesting developments going on. First thing’s first, what we get out of Carlos Boozer? Easily the single biggest disappointment in the First Round, will Boozer fight through his turf toe injury (he has only limited practice since the last series ended) and provide something… anything? Second thing’s first, how will Rose’s ankle hold up? Clearly the Bulls best player, this has to be the most important question. Guards are much better suited to come back from ankle injuries and we will all be hoping this is the case for Rose. Third thing’s last, will Unit: DJ TrainWreck see more playing time this series? My gut says no (and it is a lovely gut, indeed).
If everything goes according to plan, this should be another warm-up for the Bulls before they face one of the other elite teams of the East in the Conference Finals. Yet, plans often have unexpected hitches (just try watching a regular season game in a strip club on a Sunday), and the Bulls seem to find ways of seeking out these hitches. Unless a complete meltdown happens, the Bulls should take this team down in five. The ATL is bound to get too hot in at least one game to be swept, but the Bulls simply match-up too well for them to have any real shot. That being said, I am sure that after tonight’s game, I will be scrambling to find the self-destruct button, declaring the apocalypse.