One team exceeded expectations with their superstar and former MVP missing the entire regular season, while the other quelled early season struggles and the firing of a head coach to become a sleeper pick in these playoffs.
The Chicago Bulls hope to continue their surprising play against the just-hitting-their-stride Brooklyn Nets Saturday afternoon at the Barclays Center in Game 1 of their first round matchup.
Derrick Rose sat out all 82 regular season games, including the second half of the year when doctors had cleared him to play. Lacking confidence in his surgically reconstructed knee, Rose saw his team form the league’s third best defense, and struggle on offense at 93.2 points per game.
Center Joakim Noah and forward Luol Deng were the main reasons the Bulls survived the regular season, but Noah’s status for Game 1 is in question. Noah reached career highs in points (11.9), rebounds (11.1), blocks (2.1), and assists (4.0), pacing Chicago on both sides of the floor, but his bout with plantar fasciitis has carried over into the playoffs and he could miss the next several games.
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Now in his fifth year, Noah has played just 49 minutes in April. Deng led Chicago in scoring with 16.5 points a game, and the NBA minutes at 38.7.
Forward Carlos Boozer has picked up his play in April with 18.9 points and 12.8 rebounds this month, helping Chicago spell the loss of Noah.
Brooklyn saw their offense crumble at the beginning of the year, and eventually the fingers pointed to then-head coach Avery Johnson. He was fired, and P.J. Carlesimo took his place, albeit on an interim basis.
Under Carlesimo the Nets went 35-19, a huge improvement, but how Brooklyn performs in the first round will determine his role with the team next season.
Center Brook Lopez had a breakout year with Carlesimo, leading the Nets with 19.4 points and two blocks a game.
Guard Deron Williams overcame some early season shooting woes to net 18.9 points and 7.7 assists a game. Williams closed out the season with a 24.6 points and 8.4 assist April, and appears to have found the touch from his days in Utah.
Betting Odds: Brooklyn is favored by 4.5 points.
Over/Under: 181 points
Prediction: Chicago spark plug Nate Robinson could cause matchup problems for the Nets off the bench, but so could Brooklyn’s Andray Blatche. The Nets also need Joe Johnson to play up to his pay grade. This should be a slower paced game, which plays into the Bulls favor, but Brooklyn has too many weapons on offense.
Predicted Score: Brooklyn 94, Chicago 88