We all know the Bulls won the regular-season series with the Nets, 3-1, and after witnessing the two teams' last meeting -- a 92-90 Bulls win in Brooklyn with the visitors missing five players due to injury -- it might be very easy to envision the Bulls advancing to the second round of the playoffs.
While it may seem fortunate that the Bulls avoided their Central Division rival Indiana in the opening round, the Nets have a trio of bonafide scorers -- floor general Deron Williams, swingman Joe Johnson and All-Star center Brook Lopez -- which is a luxury that opponents can't take for granted in the postseason, when uncontested buckets are harder to come by.
Still, the Bulls are as healthy as they'll get entering the postseason. With the emergence of players such as Jimmy Butler, Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed during the extended absences of regulars like the All-Star duo of Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, not to mention key rotation players Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and Rip Hamilton, the Bulls are also a much deeper team than what was first perceived when the season started.
This has arguably been Tom Thibodeau's finest coaching job yet, given the myriad aforementioned games missed because of injury, let alone former league MVP Derrick Rose's season-long absence.
Brooklyn does have the assembled talent to extend its roller-coaster ride of a campaign -- a hot start, followed by a drastic swoon and Avery Johnson's firing, P.J. Carlesimo taking over as interim head coach and despite Johnson's injury woes, a resurgence tied to Williams' health improving, Lopez establishing himself as an elite player at his position and power forward Reggie Evans' dominant rebounding -- so it certainly shouldn't be a cakewalk for the Bulls, whose fate is tenuously linked to their present bill of good health.
Starting with the backcourt, a breakdown of the matchups reveals that while the Nets possess more scoring punch, the Bulls are suitably composed of the personnel to compete.
Williams finished the regular season on the upswing, so Hinrich must pester him without getting into foul trouble and keep him honest on the defensive end of the floor by knocking down the occasional long ball. Robinson needs to be under control, but a reliable double-figure scoring option on a nightly basis, while consistently getting the better of predecessor C.J. Watson.
Butler will also likely spend some time shadowing Williams, but his primary focus will be on limiting Johnson, as well as continuing to be a consistent scoring threat and force on the glass.
Hamilton's ability to contribute as a mid-range weapon and playmaker will be key, as his movement without the ball and passing can diversify the Bulls' offense, as does Belinelli's deep range and ability to run the offense in a pinch, though it won't be easy with the physical defensive stylings of ex-Bull Keith Bogans and on the other end, instant-offense scorer MarShon Brooks.
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At small forward, Deng won't have too tasking of a defensive assignment guarding slumping veteran Gerald Wallace -- though he should see some time against Johnson -- but his scoring and all-around play will be crucial to the Bulls' success.
Carlos Boozer will be under heavy scrutiny going into the series, but he is more than capable of dominating his matchup as both a scorer and rebounder, and he won't be asked to defend a primary scorer, making his life that much easier. Although both Evans and backup Kris Humphries have reputations as irritants, physical players and disruptive forces on the boards.
Gibson's quickness and athleticism should give him an advantage on the interior and Mohammed, a savvy veteran, can also contribute some big-body toughness if called upon.
Lopez and versatile reserve big man Andray Blatche are talented offensive players, but Noah, if physically able, is certain to make a positive impact as a dominant rebounder, defensive anchor and playmaker on both ends of the court, even if he has a minutes restriction initially, as the Bulls' depth inside is capable of picking up the slack.
While Carlesimo is an experienced coach and has done an admirable job salvaging a turbulent Nets season, selflessness, balanced rotation, current overall health and collective defensive focus is a ideal scenario for Thibodeau to propel his squad into the next round of the playoffs.
Allowing for a game-long Bulls scoring drought and a brilliant virtuoso performance by Williams, Johnson or Lopez, expect the Bulls to prevail in the series, 4-2.