Second round matchup with Hawks favors Bulls

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Second round matchup with Hawks favors Bulls

Friday, April 29, 2011
Posted: 9:30 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

With Thursday night's series-ending win over Orlando, Atlanta moved on to the second round, where they will take on the top-seeded Bulls. After falling to their division rival in a historic sweep a year ago, the Hawks avenged the embarrassing defeat and shocked observers by utilizing a one-on-one defense strategy against Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard to win the first-round matchup in just four games.

Former Bulls guards Jamal Crawford and Kirk Hinrich were key to Atlanta's success, as Crawford's prolific scoring off the bench certainly tilted the scales in the series, while Hinrich's defense on point-guard counterpart Jameer Nelson was crucial. Unfortunately for both Hinrich and Atlanta, the veteran guard suffered a right-hamstring injury just after making a clutch layup late in Thursday's win.

READ: NBA releases Bulls vs. Hawks schedule

While Hinrich, who will reportedly have an MRI Friday, wasn't expected to shut down Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, he's the only player on the Hawks roster with any semblance of hope of defending him. Against Orlando, Atlanta sent out a legion of big men--Jason Collins, Hilton Armstrong, Josh Powell and classic playoff irritant Zaza Pachulia--to guard Howard, but surely first-year Hawks head coach Larry Drew understands simply sending Rose to the line isn't the answer (as the Pacers quickly found out in the first round) and regardless, there isn't a similar army of backup point guards available to wear him down, as Crawford and seldom-used second-year reserve Jeff Teague are the team's only alternatives behind Hinrich.

Rose isn't the only mismatch the Bulls pose against Atlanta. Of the three regular-season matchups between the two teams, all in March, Chicago easily won the final two contests, after blowing a huge halftime lead at Philips Arena to narrowly lose in the first game.

The Bulls dominated the backboards--as they did against most opponents--for the most part and with the Hawks playing an isolation-heavy offense based around the one-on-one abilities of Crawford and All-Star swingman Joe Johnson, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau's help-ready scheme is perfectly suited to defending them. Atlanta's other All-Star, undersized center Al Horford, lit up the Bulls as the protagonist in Atlanta's comeback win, but wasn't a major factor in the other two affairs.

Not only are the Bulls a tough matchup, but in the chess match that is the postseason, the Hawks must now switch gears after focusing on Howard and Orlando's cadre of long-range specialists. Additionally, Atlanta doesn't enjoy a consistent home-court advantage at "The Highlight Factory"--a famously late-arriving crowd--puzzlingly either getting blown out or losing to inferior guests on occasion, while other times rising to the challenge against elite competition, such as the come-from-behind win over Chicago.

WATCH: One-on-one with Bulls VP John Paxson

From the Bulls' perspective, one thing the series will provide is a chance for much-maligned power forward Carlos Boozer to get back on track. Throughout the first-round series against Indiana, criticism of his performance only increased, despite Chicago putting away the Pacers in five games.

Boozer's right-toe injury, regardless of skepticism of its timing, should have adequate time to heal, especially with the team taking two days off from practice after advancing to the second round (the likes of Rose, Luol Deng and Keith Bogans are others who were in need of a break to rest nagging injuries), but more important is him regaining his confidence, as well as that of his teammates and coaches, who are saying all the right things publicly, but have to be alternately concerned and disappointed at his playoff production thus far. Matched up with an Atlanta frontline ill-equipped to defend him--opposing power forward Josh Smith is one of the league's most athletic players, but lacks Boozer's strength, while Horford will likely be matched up with a lesser offensive threat to keep him out of foul trouble; the same Hawks centers who sacrificed their bodies to guard Howard won't be able to use the same tactics to successfully defend a well functioning Boozer's blend of finesse and power--this series is ideal for the free-agent acquisition to recover his swagger, while not having to guard an offensive focal point.

If Boozer doesn't regain his past form, backup Taj Gibson will likely be up to the challenge. Gibson matches up well with the athletic Hawks and his confidence is soaring after playing productive minutes in Boozer's stead, despite Thibodeau limiting his minutes as the Pacers series first got underway.

Outside of Crawford--who likely becomes a starter if Hinrich is out--Chicago possesses a major advantage in depth and while Thibodeau has mostly observed the postseason custom of playing his starters more minutes, Atlanta is a team the Bulls can wear down with their manpower, perhaps giving "The Bench Mob" one more opportunity to show its value. Besides defensive question marks at point guard and in the post, the Hawks are also susceptible on the wing, presenting Deng with a chance to build on his solid first-round efforts, not to mention sharpshooter Kyle Korver, whose movement without the ball is different than the spot-up philosophy undertaken by Orlando.

Overall, this series, which begins Monday night at the United Center, is a better matchup--at least on paper--for the Bulls than were the scrappy, underrated Pacers. Given Atlanta's inconsistent nature and the possibility of Hinrich being out or at the least, limited, expect Chicago to close things out in five games on the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they will take on the winner of the highly-anticipated Celtics-Heat series.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

PHOTO: Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose reunite at Cubs-Dodgers game

PHOTO: Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose reunite at Cubs-Dodgers game

Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose may not be teammates anymore, but that didn't stop them from catching up on the west coast while watching a familiar Chicago team.

The former set of Bulls teammates happened to bump into each other at the Cubs-Dodgers game on Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles, where they both work out in the offseason.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016-17 season, Bulls fans!]

Rose and Butler likely haven't seen each other since the trade that sent Rose to the New York Knicks over the summer.

Butler shared the picture on his Instagram with Rose and his son P.J., capturing a cool moment after speculation of a reported rift during their time together in Chicago never seemed to go away:

three cats at a cubs and dodgers game.

A photo posted by Jimmy Butler (@jimmybutler) on

Dwyane Wade's cousin shot and killed in Chicago

Dwyane Wade's cousin shot and killed in Chicago

On Thursday, Dwyane Wade appeared on an ESPN special for The Undefeated to talk about gun violence. The next day, Wade's cousin was shot and killed in Chicago.

Nykea Aldridge was pushing a baby stroller in the Chicago neighborhood of Parkway Gardens when she was shot and killed. Aldridge was 32 and a mother of four.

Police said she was not the intended target and one person was taken into custody as a result of the incident.

Wade's words during his appearance on the ESPN panel took on extra meaning after Friday's shooting.

"It's important for all of us to help each other, to go back and say 'You know what, where did this start, how did this start? Let's see how we can change there,'" Wade said on ESPN. "It's deep-rooted and this is something that didn't start today. This is something that's not going to end tomorrow. But this is something that we can start a conversation, we can start the work today and hopefully eventually we can stop it."

Wade tweeted after the shooting.

Windy City Bulls fill out roster in D-League expansion draft

Windy City Bulls fill out roster in D-League expansion draft

The Windy City Bulls are beginning to feel more like a real team.

On Wednesday, the Chicago Bulls' new NBA D-League franchise that will play games in Hoffman Estates beginning this season participated in the league's expansion draft.

As one of three new expansion teams joining the NBA D-League this season, the Windy City Bulls were allowed to select 12 players from the other 19 teams in the league. Each returning D-League team was allowed to protect the rights to 10 players on each roster with two players being available to the Bulls, Long Island Nets and Greensboro Swarm.

The Bulls acquired the rights to 12 players as here's the rundown of who they selected.

Round 1: Wesley Saunders, G/F, Harvard (Austin Spurs)
Round 2: Kiwi Gardner, G, Midland College (Santa Cruz Warriors)
Round 3: Ralph Sampson III, C, Minnesota (Maine Red Claws)
Round 4: Booker Woodfox, G, Creighton (Texas Legends)
Round 5: Jerel McNeal, G, Marquette (Northern Arizona Suns)
Round 6: Akeem Richmond, G, East Carolina (Reno Bighorns)
Round 7: Casey Prather, G/F, Florida (Northern Arizona Suns)
Round 8: Jon Octeus, G, Purdue (Canton Charge)
Round 9: Justin Dentmon, G, Washington (Texas Legends)
Round 10: Jamal Jones, F, Texas A&M (Delaware 87ers)
Round 11: Xavier Thames, G, San Diego State (Fort Wayne Mad Ants)
Round 12: Ian Chiles, C, Morgan State (Salt Lake City Stars)

It's important to note that although the Bulls have the rights to these 12 players for two seasons that many of them might never suit up for the team. Many players from this expansion draft group will head overseas to pursue professional opportunities there. If they do end up signing a D-League contract, the Bulls will have right of first refusal, giving the Bulls rights to these players for two seasons.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Among the notables picked by the Bulls include the 5-foot-7 Gardner, who has had a successful D-League stint in the past as well as some experience in the Saudi Premier League. Local college hoops fans will probably recognize the 6-foot-3 McNeal from his days at Marquette where he played for one season with Bulls star Jimmy Butler. McNeal also has more NBA experience than anyone on the expansion list as he most recently finished out the 2014-15 season with the Phoenix Suns. Former Washington product Justin Dentmon is also a native of Carbondale as the 6-foot-0 guard helped Carbondale High School to a fourth-place finish in the 2004 IHSA Class AA state basketball tournament.

Windy City will tip off the season with a home opener at Sears Centre on Friday, Nov. 11. The 2016-17 D-League schedule was released earlier this week as Windy City will have 24 home games, including 16 that will be played on Friday or Saturday night. 

While the Windy City roster will look very different from this expansion draft list, the Windy City Bulls should help the main Bulls franchise develop young talent in a nearby location as it will be the start of a very intriguing dynamic.