Bulls facing tough series against Hawks

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Bulls facing tough series against Hawks

Friday, April 29, 2011Posted: 4:04 p.m.

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

While most of the so-called NBA experts are picking the Bulls to take care of Atlanta in 4 or 5 games, there are some real areas of concern when you analyze the match-ups.

First of all, Hawks' forward Josh Smith is one of the most versatile players in the league, capable of filling up a stat sheet like Scottie Pippen used to do. At 6-9, Smith blocks shots like a center, and runs the court like a guard. He's capable of putting up 25 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals, 5 assists and 5 blocks in an up-tempo game.

Against Orlando in the first round of the playoffs, the Hawks started a bigger front line with Jason Collins at center and Smith teaming with Al Horford at the forward spots. But Atlanta's best line-up is Horford at center, with Smith and Marvin Williams at the forwards. Smith is much too quick for Carlos Boozer to defend, and I'm not sure Tom Thibodeau would want to have Joakim Noah guarding a player with range out to the 3 point line.

If Atlanta goes small against the Bulls, Thibodeau might be forced to give more minutes to Taj Gibson, who has the best chance of matching up with Smith defensively. The Bulls might even go with a small line-up of their own, using Kyle Korver at small forward and Luol Deng at power forward.

The other issue is containing Horford, a 2-time All-Star, who had one of his best games of the season against his old college teammate, Noah, back in March. Horford is deceptively quick playing the center position, and is capable of driving past Noah for strong finishes at the rim. Noah and the Bulls did a much better job defensively against Horford in their 2 wins over Atlanta, but it's a match-up that will take on a lot of importance in the upcoming series.

Right now, the Hawks aren't sure about the status of Kirk Hinrich for the Conference semi-finals. Hinrich injured a hamstring muscle during the clinching win over Orlando, and had to be helped from the court. The Hawks don't know if he'll be able to play in Monday night's opening game, and they're not sure what he'll be able to provide throughout the series.

If Hinrich can't go, the Hawks lose their best defensive option against Derrick Rose. The other former Bulls' point guard, Jamal Crawford, is an excellent scorer, but one of the worst defensive players in the league. If the Hawks are forced to go with a tall back court of Crawford and All-Star Joe Johnson, they would probably have to put Johnson on Rose. Johnson is a strong defender, but at 6-7, he would have a tough time staying in front of the lightning-quick Rose.

On the other end, the Bulls will have to be physical against Johnson, using and Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer to keep him from driving into the paint, where he's tremendously effective scoring on jumpers and flip shots from 10 feet in. The Bulls have had a lot of success defending Johnson in the past, and his playoff history would suggest it's unlikely he'll come through with a series filled with high-scoring games.

One of the keys for the Bulls will be trying to establish Boozer in the post. He's coming off a couple of bad games in the Indiana series, and a painful "turf toe" injury. But he has the size and strength to get Smith in foul trouble if the Hawks go with their small line-up. Keep an eye on which coach is forced to adjust his line-up first. Will Thibodeau have to get Boozer out because he can't defend Smith, or will it work the other way around? That match-up could determine whether this series goes short or long.

Atlanta doesn't have any answers for Rose, but then again, who does? The soon-to-be-named M.V.P. is capable of blowing past any defender in a one-on-one situation, and he can also elevate over the Hawks' interior defenders, with the exception of Smith. With Rose getting into the paint, Atlanta's big men will be forced to help, and that should set up plenty of easy baskets for Noah, Boozer, Gibson and Deng.

The Hawks' best hope of extending the series is the 3 point line. Johnson, Crawford, Williams and Hinrich are streaky, but dangerous from beyond the arc. If they start draining 3 balls, the Bulls will be forced to extend their defense, creating more opportunities for Horford and Smith inside.

The Bulls "bench mob" didn't play to its usual level against Indiana, but they should have the advantage against an Atlanta team that normally doesn't get much production from anyone on the 2nd unit besides Crawford. And, when it comes to coaching, give Thibodeau and his staff a huge edge over 1st year Atlanta head coach Larry Drew.

I'm picking the Bulls to win the series in 6 games, but it might only go 5 if Hinrich is out for an extended period, or Atlanta's streaky outside shooters go cold. What do you think? Please post your comments in the section below. I'll see you at the United Center Monday night. We'll be doing SportsNet Central near Gate 3 at 6:30.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10 p.m.

Chicago man steals the show at Oscars, gets gifts from hometown sports teams

Chicago man steals the show at Oscars, gets gifts from hometown sports teams

Leave it to a Chicago man to steal the show at the biggest awards ceremony on the planet.

Gary, an unsuspecting tourist who arrived on the Academy Awards stage as part of an elaborate Jimmy Kimmel gag, got the opportunity of a lifetime. Along with his fiance, he chatted up some of the most famous celebrities in Hollywood and even got Denzel Washington to preside over his wedding. 

Now, the internet sensation is getting some love from his hometown basketball squad. The Chicago Bulls tweeted an invitation for when he returns to the Windy City. 

Gary, who was rocking a purple iPhone case, will also be receiving a gift from the Bears.

Not bad for a vacation to California. Keep living the dream, Gary, but please don't let us find out that you're actually from the suburbs.

 

Dwyane Wade's near-miss of a triple-double caused by friendly Felicio fire

Dwyane Wade's near-miss of a triple-double caused by friendly Felicio fire

In a season where the triple-double has become commonplace to the point of stat chasing in the effort to chase history, Dwyane Wade didn't mind snatching his own piece of turf.

In a game where teammate Jimmy Butler reached the feat for the first time this season, it would've been doubly satisfactory for Wade to achieve the fifth triple-double of his career.

One rebound away in the final seconds of the Bulls' 117-99 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the memo didn't reach Cristiano Felicio, who reached over Wade to grab a rebound, causing it to harmlessly fall out of bounds and ending Wade's chance at history.

After Wade finished with 20 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds in 34 minutes, he was asked if he "hated" Felicio for interrupting his moment.

"No hate. Just a strong dislike, though," said Wade with a wry smile. "You know how long it's been since I had a triple double? It's been a long time."

It's been six years, as his last triple-double came in the 2010-11 season with the Miami Heat, achieving the feat with a 22-point, 12-rebound and 10-assist performance against the then-Charlotte Bobcats on Feb. 4, 2011.

Even more than the statistical feat was Wade's variety, as he grabbed seven rebounds in the decisive third-quarter run that broke the game open, hitting Butler and Bobby Portis for long touchdown passes that would've had Jay Cutler or whichever quarterback the Cleveland Browns are banking on next fall, blushing.

Perhaps even more impressive was the fact it was on the second night of a back-to-back with the Bulls winning in overtime against the Phoenix Suns—a game where Wade turned it up late then threw it down over Alex Len in overtime.

"I think we just found our groove," Wade said. "We've had some injuries that have gone on but we're playing good basketball."

More pointedly, so is Wade, aided by him often finding Felicio for easy dunks on the pick and roll as they play second and fourth quarters together. 

Felicio was clearly bothered by his gaffe, which was made worse by the take-no-prisoners approach from Wade and Butler. When a member of foreign media approached him about an interview, Felicio said "you're not asking me about that last rebound, are you?"

Later in the evening, Felicio went to Twitter, posting "I did not know!!" in reference to Wade's night.

"I told him I didn't not even gonna act like I ain't mad at him. I'm very mad at him," said Wade with a laugh. "But he's all good. He said he didn't see me down there. So he took a shot at my height. It's cool. Jimmy had one. It would've been nice to have two triple doubles."

"I'm sure a stat would've came out that would've said, ‘Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler are the first duo to get a triple-double on a back-to-back since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen', since they got every record around here."

He was close, although Jordan and Pippen didn't achieve their feat on a back-to-back but a random night in the 1988-89 season. Jordan scored 41 with 11 assists and 10 rebounds and Pippen had 15 with 12 assists and 10 rebounds in a 126-121 overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

"We laugh about that often, but it's all good," Wade said. "I gotta work harder till I get another one one day."