I’ve been saying it all year and I’ll say it again: The Chicago Bulls are ready to win a championship this year, and it looks like they will.
The Eastern Conference is full of teams that everyone expects to get knocked out of the playoffs. It’s clear that the Atlanta Hawks are going to take the Brooklyn Nets to town, winning in what should be a no-contest. Behind guards Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver and with forwards Paul Millsap and Al Horford on their games, the Hawks will put on a clinic of fundamental basketball.
If history truly does repeat itself, then the Toronto Raptors will go undefeated against the Washington Wizards. Then again, based on the past, that would also mean the Bulls would sweep the Raptors for the season, in this case the playoffs, and the Bulls would have another three-peat.
The Wizards have a chance to upset Raptors fans if the starting squad maximizes its output. The frontcourt of Marcin Gortat and Nene, who apparently has only one name, can practically bulldoze its way through the paint for easy points. If that’s not enough, the backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal will be assisting each other for an average of 40 points per game combined—unless Wall goes on a scoring spree.
Regardless, the Bulls will come out of the first round against the Bucks and beat the winner of the fourth- and fifth-seed Raptors-Wizards matchup. It may not be a clean sweep, but the Bucks simply cannot outplay the Bulls in a seven-game series.
The second-seed Cleveland Cavaliers, full of players who have not competed in the playoffs before, should have the easiest first round of the playoffs against the Boston Celtics. With forward and NBA superstar/practically coach LeBron James on the team, the Cavs should have no problem making it to the second round against the Bulls.
One of those teams will be playing the Hawks for the Eastern Conference Championship unless the Wizards are able to upset both the Raptors and the Hawks.
No team in the East will be able to stop the Cavs if they make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but there will at least be a series. LeBron and company will have incredible games, likely against the Hawks, in which point guard Kyrie Irving’s first career playoff experience would go down in history for a scoring effort in the 50-point range.
However, they will have to go through the Bulls first. Strategically, it would be in the Bulls’ favor not to play the Wizards or Cavaliers at all, as they are the teams in the Eastern Conference playoffs that gave Bulls stars Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah a run for their money throughout the season.
Still, once the Bulls get on a roll, they have the starting lineup and bench to shut down any Eastern Conference team. There is no secret to the success of this year’s Bulls squad. They have size on the court, they work hard in practice, their defense is potent and their offense is clutch.
Anything can happen in the wild Western Conference.
The Golden State Warriors, the best team in the NBA in terms of their regular season record this year (67-15), are the favorites to win the Western Conference Championship and the NBA Finals. So what’s stopping them?
It is possible that the New Orleans Pelicans can stop the guard-based powerhouse—the Warriors. With the frontcourt of Anthony Davis and Omer Asik, it’s hard to rule out the Pelicans even if they just barely grabbed on to the eighth seed.
Anthony Davis’ volume scoring, rebounding and blocking could shut down the Splash Brothers if his team can keep up with him, and if they can beat the Warriors, then they can transitively beat the rest of the Western Conference teams and make a run for the NBA championship.
The Portland-Memphis matchup is a toss-up. Either team has a chance against each other so long as their players are healthy enough to last for a playoff run, but they will fall in the second round if the Warriors do indeed eliminate the Pelicans.
As good as the Los Angeles Clippers are as a perennial playoff team under Doc Rivers, they do not stand a chance against the fluid, fundamental basketball of the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs, who won the championship last season, are the Western Conference team that can give the Warriors a run for their money in a Western Conference Finals matchup. With smooth transition offense and defense as well as a balance between guards, forwards and centers, the Spurs system works. Coach Gregg Popovich is a basketball guru who knows how to make the most out of his players.
That being said, the Houston Rockets-Dallas Mavericks matchup is easily a seven-game series but a toss-up nonetheless. The winner of the series will go on to face the Spurs, who also went to the NBA Finals in 2013 and have the longest active postseason-streak. They have gone to the playoffs for the last 18 seasons and won five championships in that run.
The Warriors will likely advance to play the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals while the Bulls play the Hawks for the Eastern Conference Finals. The Warriors will win if they are able to rest by putting teams away quickly in the first two rounds of the playoffs and also trump the Spurs with fast-paced basketball. The Bulls will beat the Hawks with or without an injured Derrick Rose—at that point they will have gone too far to lose—but his role as a healthy player is still key.
There are two clear possibilities that appear at that point. Either the Warriors do what they do best and win by 15+ points, or the Bulls win in six to seven games, proving that their deep roster was more important in the long run. Of course, it would be very logical to put money on the Cavaliers rather than the Bulls considering LeBron’s imposing style of play and his team’s rebounding and scoring proficiencies.