(Rock the party, Thibs.)
With a marvelous showcase of both "surprise!" (those Grizzlies) and "look out" (the Heat), the second round started rather nicely on Sunday.
Monday night it continues with visits from the other half of the Eastern and Western brackets. So come heed my middling mutterings, alongside the staggering genius of Dan Devine and Eric Freeman, as we discuss Chicago and Atlanta.
I realize that Eric Freeman's Reputation Index is supposed to go toward the end of these playoff series previews, but can you blame us for a second for letting Atlanta's miserable reputation force us into the line of thinking that consistently tells us that it's hard to beat an NBA team -- any team -- four times in a row?
Atlanta's reputation, I'm sorry, rivals that of Dr. Mudd's. We've all been burned by them before. I was even burned by the Hawks in victory during the first round (wary of the previous letdowns, I cowardly went with Orlando over Atlanta, a regrettable revelation of character), and nobody is very keen on a team that seems to do its best every late April on NBA TV before being blown to bits in the second round on another set of channels. That entire paragraph read very Civil War-ish.
I think Chicago will sweep. This is coming from someone who was an inch away from the TV as the Hawks came back from 17 down to take care of the Bulls in Atlanta in early March, with Al Horford tossing in 31 and 16 and dominating Chicago's paint. I know that Chicago can't keep playing on an edge for four games straight and expect the paper to lead you to a win, but … these are the Hawks.
Logic dictates that I give them a game. Something else tells me that a team that feels as if it's done its job ("the second round, ahh …"), featuring heavy minutes for Jeff Teague, won't really be much to behold going against a Bulls team that is smarting from a too-competitive first round and nearly a week off between games to rest.
Chicago is deep, it defends and it has the rotation parts to keep up with the best features of Atlanta's attack.
My pick? Chicago in four.
Hey, there, sports fans! Welcome back to "PLAAAAAAAAAAYOFFS!" Boy, that first round was something else, huh? Chock full of buzzer beaters, controversy, brilliant performances, Hedo Turkoglu and Josh McRoberts. With the field now whittled down to eight teams, it's time for the conference semifinals. Who are the contenders and who are the pretenders? Who can run with the big dogs and who should stay on the porch? Who's more grizzled?
Here to offer made-up answers to these and other pressing questions about Bulls/Hawks are 7-foot-4 Utah Jazz center-turned-celebrity motivational speaker Mark Eaton and 310-year veteran/olde-tyme crustbucket Ol' Man Howard!
Mark Eaton: Bulls and Hawks, old friend. Chicago faced an unexpectedly stern test from the eighth-seeded Indiana Pacers, but was able to turn them away in five games, while the Hawks proved too tough a matchup for the higher-seeded Orlando Magic. And before we get too far afield, I think we owe Marvin Williams an apology. It wasn't very fair or nice of us to cite his presence on the Hawks roster as the primary reason why Orlando would sweep its first-round series.
Ol' Man Howard: I ain't sorry a little bit. Youngling played 18 whisper-quiet minutes a game in the series. The Bolshevik's forehead played a bigger part.
ME: Well, be that as it may: Not only did the Hawks avoid a sweep, they actually won their series in six convincing games. Could they enjoy similarly surprising success against Derrick Rose's Bulls?
OMH: Could be. Lotta things could be. Could be birch cola all-'a-sudden cures pleurisy. Could be changelings and Norwegians ain't magic. Could be everyone can afford a hot shave, and not just county commissioners. You're grasping my meaning?
ME: Literally never.
OMH: Lotta things could be. Mostly, though, they ain't.
ME: So you're saying that the Hawks could push Chicago, if they get big performances from the likes of Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Jamal Crawford …
OMH: Mostly, though, they ain't.
ME: I see. I'll have to agree with you on that score, old friend. With defensive stalwart and noted Iowan Kirk Hinrich questionable for the series, young Jeff Teague will handle the point-guard duties for the Hawks, and I have to imagine Derrick Rose is supremely excited to implement my VISA Strategy for Success™ to exploit that mismatch.
OMH: Explain yourself, as clearly and concisely as did I.
ME: It's a four-step Strategy for Success™:
Visualize yourself dominating a lesser opponent;
Intimidate your opponent with grandiose displays of strength early in the contest;
Suggest that the female members of his family are promiscuous (relations-wise);
Attack the basket with impunity.
OMH: There's sense to that.
ME: I'm so glad you agree! And I'm sure you'll agree that Chicago will move on, dispatching the Hawks with relative ease. Bulls in five.
OMH: I've grown fond of the way your jib's cut, Sasquatch. Bulls in five.
(Dan thinks the Bulls will win in four games.)
The regular season counts, but the postseason is where reputations are made. Tracy McGrady never won a playoff series and will always be seen as a disappointment. Derek Fisher lacks several fundamental basketball skills but will always be seen as a champion because he makes big shots when it counts. Chauncey Billups owes his entire nickname to the 2004 playoffs. The point being that playoff performance skews national perception of NBA players beyond all reason. In that vein, behold the BDL Reputations Index, your guide to what's at stake for the top names in the second round.
Harry the Hawk: Unlike many mascots, Harry brings the pain on a consistent basis, tormenting opposing players and bringing laffs to the home crowd even when the home team is at its worst. This series, though, should test the resolve of one of America's favorite furry friends. Can he mock Tom Thibodeau's lack of a social life when the Hawks are down 30 at home? Can he get in Derrick Rose's head even though he has no emotions? Or will Harry be seen as a mascot who can't get himself ready to play when his team is at rock bottom?
Our commitment to the playoffs: The truest of NBA diehards have inhaled the playoffs over its first two weeks. This series, though, is going to be borderline unwatchable, with the far superior team playing a style that isn't exactly pretty. Expect blowouts, rockfights and several other terrible sights. Will it be enough to drive the biggest fans from watching? If so, we may not be able to claim quite the same level of love of the sport as we have in the past.
Derrick Rose: Rose is now an established star and likely to be announced as the league MVP during this series. The Bulls are also going to win this series, which won't hurt him at all but also won't give his reputation much of a boost. But the same could have been said of the Pacers series, and Rose nevertheless added to his legend by pulling Chicago to several late wins with fourth-quarter scoring domination. If Rose engineers any similar comebacks against the Hawks, expect more people to agree that he was the best choice for MVP.
Carlos Boozer: Boozer had a horrific series against Indiana, averaging just 10 points on 35.8 percent shooting from the field. For the Bulls to continue to advance, Boozer will have to produce more to take some of the pressure off Rose at the offensive end. While they probably don't need Boozer at his best to dispatch Atlanta, another bad string of games from Boozer would increase rumblings that he's not productive enough to serve as the quality second option he's paid to be.
I pick the Bulls in four games.