The Chicago Bulls didn’t fight their way into the NBA playoffs to be somebody’s punching bag.
This underdog doesn’t plan to roll over and play dead.
The gangly and gifted Noah has spent the past few days trying to convince anyone willing to listen that the eight-seeded Bulls intend to “try and shock the world” and eliminate LeBron James(notes) and the heavily favored Cavs, who won 61 games during the regular season before shifting into neutral and dropping their final four to rest for a postseason they hope ends with a title.
Noah, who earlier this season took exception to James’ on-court dance moves during a game in Cleveland, rejects the idea that the Bulls can’t hang with the top-seeded Cavs, who will host Game 1 on Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena and Game 2 on Monday.
“To me, seeding doesn’t mean anything,” Noah said. “At the end of the day, it’s yours against mine. That’s the way we view it. I think it’s going to be a good challenge.”
While March was especially ripe with madness this year in an NCAA tournament speckled with upsets from beginning to almost the bitter end, the NBA’s postseason rarely offers one of those honey-wake-the-neighbors shockers that rock the basketball universe.
Since the league changed its playoff format in 1984, there have only been three times when a No. 8 knocked off a No. 1 seed, and the only time it happened in the Eastern Conference was when Miami stunned New York in a five-game series in 1999.
The only time a No. 8 has toppled a No. 1 in seven games was when Golden State shocked Dallas in 2007.
With the Cavs getting back Shaquille O’Neal(notes), Chicago’s odds are just as long this time. But coach Vinny Del Negro, whose future with the club appears damned, is ignoring the dire predictions for his team.
“That’s why I don’t listen to anybody. You never know what’s going to happen in a series,” he said. “Obviously, Cleveland’s had a great year. They have LeBron. But other than LeBron, they have a lot of really skilled players. They’re deep. They’re big. Shaq coming back causes more problems, obviously. We know what Mo Williams(notes) is capable of doing.
“There’s no question it’s a huge task, but that’s what makes it great.”
The Bulls won the first meeting between the clubs, 86-85 on Nov. 5. The Cavaliers took the next two before Chicago beat Cleveland 109-108 on April 8, when James sat out the first of four straight games to end the season.
In Derrick Rose(notes), Kirk Hinrich(notes) and Luol Deng(notes), the Bulls have skilled scorers able to stay with James and Co. Rose averaged just 17 points—nearly 4 below his season average—— in three games against the Cavs, who will likely put 6-foot-6 Anthony Parker(notes) to try and contain Chicago’s driving star.
“He’s going to get to the rim,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “He’s talented, explosive, physically tough and mentally tough. We have to make him kick the ball outside and make their other guys beat us. They are capable because they have a lot good players and they can make you pay.”
Before coming to Cleveland, Jamison spent five seasons with a Washington team that lost to the Cavs in the playoffs three straight years from 2006-08. The Wizards were never favored in any of those series, but that didn’t matter once Game 1 tipped off.
Jamison has walked in the Bulls’ gym shoes and knows how dangerous an underdog can be.
“You try to go out there and shock the doubters and shock the world,” he said. “You want to be the guy who upset the top team. We just didn’t have the talent to do it. That’s supposed to be your mind frame. This team we’re playing can be a dangerous team. They’re young, energetic, they hustle and play hard and anytime you are a young team, you can go in there and shock everybody.
“They don’t have any pressure on them whatsoever.”
Del Negro may.
This week, conflicting reports surfaced about Chicago’s coach being involved in a physical altercation with executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson after a game last month. Del Negro was labeled the aggressor in one report while another said Paxson challenged the coach over playing time for Noah, who at the time was recovering from a foot injury.
Whatever the truth behind the incidents, they didn’t distract the Bulls, who had to overcome injuries on the way to the playoffs. Del Negro praised his team’s resolve.
“It’s about the players,” he said. “Players win games. Everyone was battling back and doing as much therapy and getting as much rest, and then we got together. And at the end of the year, we focused and we knew what we had to do and got it done.”
And now the Bulls have a chance to do something bigger.
It’s playoff time, time when teams dream about shocking the world.
Not everybody succeeds.