This series will not be the typical No. 1 versus an No. 8 matchup that people will be expecting. This season has been the year of perseverance for both the Chicago Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers. Both have encountered difficulties throughout this shortened season that have tested their resolve.
The Chicago Bulls have had to deal with multiple injuries to their main players. Reigning MVP Derrick Rose played only 39 games, starting shooting guard Richard Hamilton played in only 27 games and starting small forward Luol Deng played in only 54 games. Even through all these injuries, they managed to achieve the best record in the league.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers were doing extremely well when they started the season 20-9. But they went into a major slump. Since then, they are 15-22. However, they enter the playoffs having won four of their last five games.
However, I believe that the slump was exactly that, a slump. Looking at the team statistics, the numbers tell a different story. They indicate the 76ers are closer to the Bulls than the standings indicate.
The Chicago Bulls won the season series against the Sixers 2-1. However, that one loss came when Luol Deng was out of the lineup.
The Bulls are first in points per game given up, while the Sixers are second. The Bulls are second in opponents field goal percentage, while the Sixers are third. The Bulls are fourth in opponent three-point shooting percentage, while the Sixers are sixth. The Bulls are first in rebounds per game, while the Sixers are seventh. The Sixers are first in turnovers allowed, while the Bulls are ninth.
The strength of both teams is on the defensive end. However, assuming health for both teams, I believe it will be the rebounding that will determine whether this is a close series or not. The Sixers are 19th in the league in rebound differential, which means that on average they get outrebounded. The Bulls on the other hand lead the league in rebound differential.
In the starting lineup, I believe Elton Brand can match Carlos Boozer's production. Therefore, Joakim Noah needs to take advantage of his height and strength and out-produce his counterpart on the Sixers. If Spencer Hawes can draw Noah out of the paint, it will allow the Sixers to crash the boards and get second chance opportunities.
Both teams have strong benches that contribute greatly to team success. However, if the Sixers want to have any success, they need more production from Lou Williams against the Bulls. Williams has averaged only 9.7 ppg against the Bulls this season, which is far below his season average of 14.9 ppg. They need him to be the third scorer in that line-up in order for them to be successful.
I believe that the X-factor in this series for the Sixers is going to be Andre Iguodala. In their only win against the Bulls this season, Iguodala had a great game with 19 points, nine rebounds, and four assists. However, in their two losses (with Deng playing) he has averaged only 10.5 ppg on 36 percent shooting.
Rose's injuries are a concern as Jrue Holiday is more than capable of taking advantage of it. Holiday led the Sixers in scoring in both losses to the Bulls and was second to Iguodala's 19 points, with 18, in their victory.
The Sixers need to rebound the ball and not allow second-shot opportunities. They also need Andre Iguodala step up and be the first/second option on the team. The Bulls have shown they can play through injuries to their main players by getting contributions from unexpected sources. I predict the Bulls will win the series 4-2.