Dwight Howard versus the Bulls frontcourt, but the Hawks present Chicago an interesting matchup. Really, I get the feeling this series could surprise a bit and be really good.
A challenge for the Hawks though will be to forget about the Orlando series and re-focus here. Because that was a big win for them. They were humilated last year and obviously played with an edge. They need that same kind of motivation and edge to hold down Derrick Rose and the Bulls.
II. What Happened: A look at the season seriesThe Bulls took the season series 2-1 over the Hawks with one close loss and two blowout wins. The Hawks scored 14 fewer points a game against the Bulls, were crushed on the glass, shot low percentages and couldn't stop the Bulls. The win the Hawks picked up came because they were able to slow the Bulls down and beat them in an ugly, grind-it-out game.
III. Secret of the Series: Transition
The Hawks have a bunch of talent and athleticism, especially in their bigs, that can get out in the open floor and run against the Bulls. Josh Smith is terrific in transition. Al Horford runs well. Players like Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford can find secondary opportunities off of fast breaks. Running is a big thing for the Hawks to try and do because it's hard to see them beating the Bulls four times using halfcourt offense.
The Bulls though are very good at controlling pace and keeping teams from running. Obviously Tom Thibodeau knows the Hawks want to run as much as possible and that will be a focus.
IV. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?
PG: The Bulls obviously had the edge in this department before Kirk Hinrich's injury, but now it's pretty wide. Jeff Teague will start for the Hawks in Game 1 and might be handling duties the entire series. Either way, the Bulls have a giant edge at point guard. Hinrich is a pesky on-ball defender and Rose would've had to work. His life just got easier. Huge advantage, Bulls.
SG: This is kind of the opposite of the point guard matchup. Joe Johnson is the main offensive option for Atlanta and Keith Bogans' job is to lock him down. But for Chicago, not only is Bogans healthy, but he's totally capable of limiting Johnson. The Hawks have an edge, but it's not wide. Advantage, Hawks.
SF: Assuming the Hawks stick with the same starting five used against Orlando, Josh Smith will be here against Luol Deng. Obviously Smith has a big size advantage, but Deng is super long and will take Smith out on the perimeter. A lot will come down to if Smith does the same or uses his head and goes inside on Deng. Too close to call for me, so this is a push.
PF: Carlos Boozer will try to give it a go in Game 1 and will face off in the series against Al Horford. This will be a terrific head-to-head with two big bodies that score well in the post. Definitely a good one to watch. Horford is more consistent and is playing better, so Atlanta has the edge here. Advantage, Hawks.
C: Again, this will be Jason Collison versus Joakim Noah is things stay the same for Atlanta. If Larry Drew changes things up, he'll have Horford against his old Florida buddy and Marvin Williams at small forard with Smith at power forward. Under the assumption though Collins starts here, Noah has the edge. He played like the animal he is against Indiana and his athleticism could give Collins trouble on the glass. Advantage, Bulls.
Bench: This is where the Hawks make their move. Jamal Crawford has been an absolute weapon off the bench for Atlanta and even Marvin Williams and Zaza Pachulia chipped in big time against Orlando. The Bulls bench lacked against Indiana other than Kyle Korver. Chicago doesn't look for offense as much as Atlanta does off the bench, but still, the Hawks should win this area easily every game. Advantage, Hawks.
Coach: Larry Drew did a nice job in Round 1. Tom Thibodeau has emerged as a pretty incredible strategist and game coach. This feels like series that will be more just about matchups than anything else and Drew has the opportunities to use his team's versatility to move things around. But Thibodeau is the superior here. Advantage, Bulls.
V. ConclusionThe Hawks can win this series. I'm convinced. They have the athletes, the scorers and the confidence to hang right in with the Bulls. Especially after the shaky play Chicago showed in the opening round. The Bulls are the better team, no doubt. They have a better system, won the season series handily and have Derrick Rose. But the Hawks have some talent. Don't overlook them.
That said, it's hard to picture it actually happening. The Bulls are just going to swallow the Hawks in the halfcourt. Atlanta averaged just 80 points per game against the Bulls in the regular season and had one of the worst offenses in the league. Like I said, transition is key, but the Bulls aren't dumb. They know that. The Hawks have the talent to steal one here or there, but the Bulls take this in six.