For 76ers head coach Doug Collins, his team's opening-round series will be somewhat of a homecoming, though not necessarily a happy one. The Illinois native, who once coached the Bulls, are up against the squad with the NBA's best record and the comments of second-year swingman Evan Turner, a Chicago native aside, Philadelphia isn't "dodging a bullet," even with reigning league MVP Derrick Rose still trying to regain his previous form.
That said, the Sixers have played the Bulls tough in the past, and their blend of pressure defense, transition basketball, athleticism, balanced offense and low turnovers do pose some problems. At the same time, it doesn't help Philadelphia's case that Turner provided some added motivation by publicly stating that the Sixers preferred facing the Bulls to the second-seeded Heat.
Regardless, let's take a look at how the Sixers stack up to the Bulls, as well as some of their strengths and weaknesses:
Jrue Holiday, one of the league's more underrated young players, is a solid defender, but while his size poses problems for many opposing point guards, Rose is a different animal and has had his way with the UCLA product in the past. On the other end of the floor, Holiday does make Rose work, but when he opts to get into a one-on-one battle, it stagnates the Sixers' offense, as his playmaking is more valuable to the team and he's an inconsistent outside shooter.
Turner was inserted into the Sixers' starting lineup in the second half of the season, but Collins recently moved him back to the bench in favor of former starter Jodie Meeks, who's primarily a spot-up shooter. Turner will still see plenty of minutes at both wing positions--he also routinely initiates the offense--and while he's also a promising young talent, the Bulls have the personnel to effectively defend the Ohio State product.
Lou Williams, a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, is the Sixers' leading scorer and one of the best instant-offfense players in the league, but like Holiday, Turner and All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala, if he dominates the ball too much, it can be a deterrent to Philadelphia's offense. The Sixers' lack of a true go-to scorer will rear its ugly head against the Bulls, as they have strong perimeter defenders and even aside from Rose, can keep Philadelphia occupied on the other end, with the likes of Rip Hamilton and Kyle Korver both being top-tier outside shooters.
The small-forward battle between All-Stars Andre Iguodala and Luol Deng will be crucial, as both are among the top perimeter defenders in the league, as well as being key secondary scorers for their teams. The difference is, if Deng isn't scoring at a high level, he's still valuable to the Bulls and often times, they can find point production from other sources. In Iguodala's case, he'll need to be effective on offense consistently--as both a scorer and a playmaker, as well as a rebounder for size-challenged Philadelphia--to keep the series competitive.
At power forward, veteran Elton Brand, a former Bulls draft pick, has seen better days. As valuable as his leadership is to the young Sixers, he's no longer the 20-point, 10-rebound threat he was earlier in his career, but if he can keep fellow Duke product Carlos Boozer from going off, while giving Philadelphia a semblance of a low-post scorer, he's done his job.
Rookie Nikola Vucevic is the Sixers' starting center, having replaced injury-prone Spencer Hawes in the lineup, but like Meeks, he's basically a token starter, though he's shown flashes of ability in his debut NBA season. If Hawes can knock down outside shots, facilitate action as a passer and compete on the boards, as he did early in the campaign when he was discussed as a Most Improved Player candidate, the Sixers will have a chance to not let the battle at center get out of hand, but the defensive and rebounding prowess of Joakim Noah and Omer Asik simply might be too much.
Like Williams, backup forward Thaddeus Young is a de facto starter for the Sixers and he's the one player the Bulls really struggle to match up with, as his combination of quickness, rebounding ability, athleticism and perimeter skills give them fits on a regular basis, although he'll also be facing a size mismatch inside. Lavoy Allen, a second-round draft pick, fared well in the Bulls' loss at Philadelphia early in the season, and while he's an active presence on the interior, his lack of experience will likely come into play.
With talk of Collins losing his team in the second half of the season--the Sixers appeared to be running away with the Atlantic Division before a collapse that saw them limp into the East's final seed--there's no reason to think the Bulls' combination of size, depth and talent, as well as added motivation spurred by Turner's comments won't win out, especially against a team that doesn't have a dominant scoring presence. While some of the games should be competitive, the Bulls should win the series handily, even with Rose still trying to regain his rhythm, though if Philadelphia can force turnovers, get into transition and find some offensive chemistry, their odds improve.