Brooklyn won 106-89 in the first game of the series, carving up Chicago's top-six defense in very convincing fashion. The Bulls, who will likely still be without Derrick Rose, appeared less-than-helpless on the offensive end and out of sorts defensively, against what was initially considered a favorable opponent.
Will the Nets be able to ride their Game 1 high to a Game 2 victory, or will the Bulls recover to notch a victory of their own?
Time: Monday, April 22, 8 p.m. ET
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York
Series Record: 1-0 Nets
Key Storyline: Can the Bulls Recover from a Game 1 romping?
If you watched the first game of the series, it wasn't pretty on Chicago's end.
The Bulls managed to connect on more than 47 percent of their shots on the offensive end, but shot just 2-of-8 from deep and converted on a mere 68.2 percent of their free throws. Luol Deng was held to just six points on 3-of-11 shooting, and just four Bulls players scored in double figures.
Credit Brooklyn's defense with doing a nice job of rotating, forcing the Bulls into an excess of long twos and bottling up Deng.
Defensively, however, is where the Bulls appeared absolutely lost. And to say that's out of the ordinary would be a gross understatement.
Brooklyn's Big Four of Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace combined to score 73 points, and the Nets dropped 106 total on a Bulls team that allowed just 92.9 a night during the regular season.
Much, if not all, of Chicago's defensive shortcomings can be attributed to Joakim Noah's essential absence. Playing on a sore foot, he logged just over 13 minutes of burn.
Without him (for the most part), the Bulls allowed 56 points in the paint. During the regular season, they allowed just 39.5, the fifth-best mark in the league.
Despite struggling to navigate the floor and not playing with the same nimble aggression in the post, Noah insists that he will play in Game 2.
Although this should come as a relief, the Bulls need more than 13 minutes from their All-Star center. Noah managed to grab five rebounds, force one steal and block one shot in limited action, but they need his interior presence for longer if they wish to consistently keep Brooklyn outside of the paint.
Derrick Rose remains the missing link for a Bulls team that has struggled to score all season, but his absence is unavoidable. Chicago needs Noah and his Defensive Player of the Year-esque prowess if it wishes to win this series.
Finding a way to get Deng better looks at the basket would help, too.
Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
Bulls: Kirk Hinrich (thigh, questionable), Joakim Noah (foot, probable) and Derrick Rose (knee, out indefinitely).
Nets: No injuries reported
Projected Starting Lineups
Bulls: Kirk Hinrich (PG), Jimmy Butler (SG), Luol Deng (SF), Carlos Boozer (PF) and Joakim Noah (C)
Nets: Deron Williams (PG), Joe Johnson (SG), Gerald Wallace (SF), Reggie Evans (PF) and Brook Lopez (C)
The Bulls will win if...
They can regain their defensive identity. And I'm talking about more than just Noah.
Brooklyn ranked just 17th in points per game during the regular season (96.9), an offensive attack that a Bulls team who ranked third in points allowed (92.9) would normally swallow up.
Guys like Butler and Deng did an exceptional job at closing out the Nets' perimeter shooters, but Chicago's line of defense in the middle was underwhelming.
If Noah isn't going to be able to provide extended minutes, both Taj Gibson and Boozer need to become more aggressive contesting shots at the rim. Brooklyn needs to be fouled hard when going to the basket, so that they think twice before penetrating next time round.
Rotations will also have to be shored up. Noah is great at covering up Boozer's low-post deficiencies, but other bigs such as Gibson and even Nazr Mohammed aren't. That only increases the importance of Deng, Butler and others cutting off dribble drives before the Nets find themselves inside the free-throw line.
Without a strong defensive showing, the odds the Bulls come away with a victory diminishes significantly. Kind of like it did in Game 1.
The Nets will win if...
They keep attacking the basket.
Going on the assumption that Noah won't be 100 percent (he won't be), the Nets cannot afford to deviate from their initial game plan.
Without Noah, and even with a half-healthy Noah, the Bulls can't defend Lopez's low-post sets or William's rim attacks all that well. If Brooklyn continues to force it down Chicago's throat, we can expect similar results to what was generated in the team's first victory.
It's equally important to stay the course if the Bulls begin to converge on the ball handler or Lopez more than they have. Continuing to force and feed the ball down low will create opportunities for shooters like Johnson, Wallace and C.J. Watson if Chicago cheats too much inside.
Brooklyn's offense found success in Game 1 doing just this, and it will find even more in Game 2 if it does the same.
It all comes down to Noah.
Chicago needs its bushy-haired center to play so that it may return to its usual stalwart defensive self. Sans him, the Bulls' most potent of strengths can be used against them.
Though Noah himself expects to play, is he really going to be able to do much more than he did in Game 1? He was in obvious pain, and while he was able to remain somewhat effective (defensively) when on the floor, I have some serious doubt that he'll be able to provide the Bulls with the 35-plus minutes they need.
Tom Thibodeau is one of the best defensive minds the game has to offer, so another 100-point disaster shouldn't be in the cards. He'll force his perimeter guys to make adjustments that will (hopefully) be aimed at covering up Boozer's interior struggles when Noah isn't in the game.
Still, without Rose to create for his teammates and serve as a go-to offensive option, the Nets are free to zero in on Deng like they did in Game 1. They'll live with Boozer going for 25 points if it means Deng is being suffocated on the perimeter.
Brooklyn is a strong defensive team in its own right, with an offensive attack that has emulated Bulls-like stagnancy on multiple occasions. But healthy, they have more firepower than a shorthanded Chicago faction.
Unless Lopez and Williams can be silenced considerably on the offensive end, or Noah makes a miraculous, seemingly overnight recovery, the Bulls are going to find themselves down 2-0 when they travel back to Chicago.
Prediction: Nets 97, Bulls 89