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Bulls-76ers preview: Stats say series will be dominated by defense

The SportsXchange

Philadelphia 76ers guard Evan Turner might have been right when he said the Sixers match up better with the Chicago Bulls, their opponents in the first round of the playoffs, than the Miami Heat.

But it doesn't mean the Sixers match up well.

The Sixers, 20-9 at one point this season, struggled thereafter and finished 35-31, leaving them the Eastern Conference's eighth seed for the second straight year. The top-seeded Bulls are 50-16 and own homecourt advantage throughout the NBA playoffs.

The best-of-seven series opens Saturday afternoon in Chicago, and it features two deep teams -- though the Bulls are deeper. And it features two defensive-minded teams -- though Chicago defends a little better.

The Bulls won two of the three regular-season meetings. That, combined with the fact that the Heat swept four games from the Sixers -- and has beaten them 11 straight times in the regular season, as well as four of five in a first-round series last year -- might have led to the comments made earlier this week by Turner, a second-year player and Chicago native.

Facing the Bulls, as opposed to the second-seeded Heat, "means we're dodging the tougher team," Turner told the Delaware County Times.

"I think we'll be able to compete well against Chicago," Turner added, "and have an opportunity to win the series."

That caused barely a ripple among the Bulls.

"Well, all right," guard Kyle Korver, a former Sixer, told reporters. "I'm not going to get into a war of words with Evan Turner. All right, come play us."

The Bulls' biggest question mark is the health of guard Derrick Rose, the league's reigning MVP. He missed 27 games with groin, back, toe, foot and ankle injuries, but returned late in the regular season and is expected to be available for this series.

Rose averaged 21.8 points in the 39 games he did play, and the Bulls went 18-9 when he did not.

C.J. Watson (9.7) and John Lucas III (7.5) filled in ably for Rose, and other Bulls picked up the scoring slack. Forwards Luol Deng (15.3) and Carlos Boozer (15.0) also average in double figures, as do guard Rip Hamilton (11.6 in 28 games) and center Joakim Noah (10.2, as well as a team-high 9.8 rebounds per game).

"Last year, we had to rely heavily on (Rose's) scoring to have a good chance to win," coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after Thursday's season-ending victory over Cleveland. "This year, Derrick does not have to score like that. We have a number of guys who can score the ball. We have a lot more scoring this year."

Then there's the Chicago defense. The Bulls yielded just 88.2 points a game during the regular season, fewest in the league, and allowed their opponents to shoot just 42.1 percent, which was second-best. They were also tops in the NBA in rebounding margin, claiming 46.7 rebounds a game themselves, while allowing their opponents an average of 40.

The Sixers allowed 89.4 points a game on 42.7-percent shooting. They are not a strong rebounding team -- coach Doug Collins has said the boards will be a key to the series -- but they only turned the ball over 11.2 times a game. That broke the 2005-06 Pistons' NBA record (11.4) for lowest turnover average.

Reserve guard Lou Williams averaged a team-best 14.9 points a game, becoming the first player to lead his team in scoring without starting a single game since the Charlotte Hornets' Dell Curry did so in 1993-94.

Guard Jrue Holiday (13.5) and forwards Thaddeus Young (12.8), Andre Iguodala (12.4) and Elton Brand (11.0) are the Sixers' other double-figure scorers.

Collins said after the playoff clincher Monday night in New Jersey that his team has "really, really come back strong" from its extended slump. The Sixers won four straight games before dropping their season finale Thursday in Detroit.

"I just think now we've got a lot of guys playing well," Collins said.

"We definitely had higher aspirations than the eighth seed," center Spencer Hawes told reporters Monday, "but to be playing well heading into (the playoffs) helps out. To right the ship in time feels good."

The Sixers, making their fourth postseason appearance in five years, have not won a series since 2003.
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