What We Have Learned About Chicago Bulls in First-Round Playoff Series so Far

Jay Wierenga@@JayWierengaCorrespondent IMay 3, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 29: Joakim Noah #13 and Luol Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls wait for play to resume with 3:15 left in the game against the Brooklyn Nets during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the  Barclays Center on April 29, 2013 in New York City. The Nets defeated the Bulls 110-91. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Chicago Bulls have done what plenty of pundits thought they couldn't do, and that is make a series out of their first-round matchup with the Brooklyn Nets.

In fact, for much of this series they have been in the driver's seat, up three games to one only to lose the last two.

So what have we learned about this Chicago Bulls team during this playoff series?


Even wounded, this team is tough

Heading into this series, most people didn't think that the Bulls had a chance. They were missing their best player, former MVP Derrick Rose, and their second-best player, Joakim Noah, was badly hobbled.

They were counting on a mix of gritty veterans and untested youngsters to get them through a stacked Nets team that includes one of the best point guards in the league, a very talented center and a proven wing player.

On paper, the Bulls should have been swept. It's a good thing these games aren't played on paper.

One of the things that makes these Bulls just so dangerous is that they are so well-coached. Tom Thibodeau has turned Scott Skiles' dysfunctional Bulls into a well-oiled machine. They play some of the best defense in the league and they play as a unit.

Even with a notorious ball hog in Nate Robinson filling in for Rose, they are playing as a team.

The Nets genuinely didn't see this group coming. After winning the first game of the series, they appeared to take their foot off the gas, allowing the Bulls to steal a game in Brooklyn and then take their home-court advantage.

The Bulls are scrapping, winning the loose ball possessions and genuinely wanting the ball more. They are taking advantage of the fact that this group has battled in the postseason before, while the Nets have never been through this type of series together.


Luol Deng is the most important player

Luol Deng is the senior statesman on this Bulls team. He has been around through much of the post-Michael Jordan rebuilding Bulls.

He, paired with Ben Gordon, weathered some bad teams and eventually broke through in 2006 and 2007 and made the playoffs. However, that team didn't have any long playoff runs and were eventually broken up.

This group, with the addition of Rose, has made it out of the first round only once, but they have made the postseason in each of the last four years.

But whether it was that group or this one, Deng has been the constant.

Deng is still the team's best perimeter defender, always drawing the toughest assignments and giving his all on that end of the court.

Offensively, Deng can do it all. He can hit perimeter jumpers up to and extending past 20 feet. He has the athleticism to get to the hoop whenever he needs to. And he has a very good mid-range shooting game.

Deng is the rare combination of a glue player that also happens to be the team's leading scorer during the regular season.

What is so striking is what Deng has meant to the Bulls during their series with the Nets.

In the three games that the Bulls have won, Deng is averaging 17 points per game.

However, in the three games the Bulls have lost, he is averaging only nine points. Additionally, in Thursday's game Deng was unable to play and the Bulls were carved up on the perimeter.

Deng is averaging almost 45 minutes per game in this series and if they are going to pull it out, he will need to be 100 percent.


The Bulls are controlling the boards, but getting beat up inside

In the six games of this series, the Bulls have lost the rebounding battle only twice.

Big guys Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and Noah are controlling every loose board and ball.

Even the guards are getting into the mix at times.

Generally, when a team is doing so well in the rebounding category, their interior defense also is doing well. It just stands to reason that big men that are controlling the glass are also controlling the real estate down low.

But this is where things become askew. So far, the Bulls have no answer for Nets center Brook Lopez.

Lopez is a good player and certainly one of the better centers in the Eastern Conference, if not the league.

He has a soft touch and some nifty post moves. He also happens to be a legit 7-footer that has good upper- and lower-body bulk.

This is certainly where the Bulls are missing a 100-percent Noah. Lopez is able to muscle Noah out of the post and work with impunity.

He has upped his scoring mark by about three points per game and is currently averaging 22.5 points per game. Add to that just over three blocks and seven boards and you have a dominant center.

Furthermore, he is making the Bulls pay when he gets fouled, knocking down nearly 88 percent of his free throws.

The Bulls genuinely have no answer for Lopez.

But that isn't necessarily a deal-breaker for this Bulls team. If you look on the horizon, there really aren't a ton of players in the Eastern Conference that the Bulls may face who possess the same type of game and size as Lopez.

If the Bulls can get past Lopez and the Nets, they likely will not face another dominant center until the Finals, if they make it that far.


Strong point guards are a problem

Heading into the playoffs, it was a given that this team would struggle against elite point guards. Robinson has never been known as anything but a shoot-first scorer in a small point guard's body.

Deron Williams struggled for much of the season, but he has figured out his game heading down the stretch and here in the playoffs.

The Bulls genuinely have no way of guarding him. He is averaging 20 points per game and nearly nine assists.

With the exception of Williams' terrible Game 2 performance, he is torching the Bulls. He is getting to the hoop whenever he wants and knocking down his triples.

He is setting up teammates and running the offense however he wants.

Through his long bombs, he is spacing out the low post and giving Lopez more room to operate. This also is allowing Gerald Wallace to slash to the hoop.

But much like their troubles with Lopez, their point guard issues won't be a problem going forward.

While most people assume that this is a point guard-driven league, the Eastern Conference is not dominated by the position.

The Indiana Pacers have a re-tread in George Hill running their show, the Heat have never had a strong point guard and the Celtics and Knicks are counting on aging veterans to run their show.

If the Bulls can get past the Nets, any disadvantage they are currently experiencing will melt away going forward.



Heading into this series, I had the Bulls winning in, at most, six games. They squandered that chance on Thursday, but they still have hope of pulling out the series win.

Their flaws are pandemic in this series, but they will be minimally invasive going forward.

If they can just get past these pesky Nets, they have a real shot at giving the Heat some serious trouble.


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