Bulls-76ers will be dominated by defense
Philadelphia 76ers guard Evan Turner said the Sixers match up better with the No. 1 seed Chicago Bulls, their opponents in the first round of the playoffs, than the second-seeded Miami Heat.
But it doesn’t mean the Sixers match up well.
The Sixers, 20-9 at one point this season, struggled thereafter and finished 35-31, leaving them the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed for the second consecutive season. The top-seeded Bulls are 50-16 and own the home-court advantage throughout the NBA playoffs.
The best-of-seven series opens Saturday in Chicago, and it will feature two deep teams — though the Bulls are deeper. And it features two defensive-minded teams — though Chicago defends a little better.
The Bulls won two of the teams’ three regular-season meetings. That, combined with the fact that the Heat swept four games from the Sixers –and has beaten them 11 games in a row in the regular season, as well as four of five in a first-round series last year — might have spurred Turner’s comments earlier this week.
Facing the Bulls, as opposed to the second-seeded Heat, “means we’re dodging the tougher team,” Turner told the Delaware County Times.
“I think we’ll be able to compete well against Chicago,” said Turner, a Chicago native, “and have an opportunity to win the series.”
That caused barely a ripple among the Bulls.
“Well, all right,” guard Kyle Korver, a former Sixer, told reporters. “I’m not going to get into a war of words with Evan Turner. Alright, come play us.”
The Bulls’ biggest question is the health of guard Derrick Rose, the league’s reigning MVP. He missed 27 games with groin, back, toe, foot and ankle injuries, but returned late in the regular season and is expected to be available for this series.
Rose averaged 21.8 points in the 39 games he did play, and the Bulls went 18-9 when he did not.
C.J. Watson (9.7) and John Lucas III (7.5) filled in ably for Rose, and other Bulls picked up the scoring slack. Forwards Luol Deng (15.3) and Carlos Boozer (15.0) also averaged in double figures, as did guard Rip Hamilton (11.6 in 28 games) and center Joakim Noah (10.2, as well as a team-high 9.8 rebounds per game).
“Last year, we had to rely heavily on (Rose’s) scoring to have a good chance to win,” coach Tom Thibodeau said after Thursday’s season-ending victory over Cleveland. “This year, Derrick does not have to score like that. We have a number of guys who can score the ball. We have a lot more scoring this year.”
Then there’s the Chicago defense. The Bulls have yielded 88.2 points a game during the regular season, fewest in the league, and allowed their opponents to shoot 42.1 percent, which was second-best.
They also were tops in the NBA in rebounding margin, claiming 46.7 rebounds a game themselves, while allowing their opponents an average of 40.
The Sixers allowed 89.4 points a game on 42.7 percent shooting. They are not a strong rebounding team — coach Doug Collins has said the boards will be a key to the series — but they only turned the ball over 11.2 times a game. That broke the 2005-06 Pistons’ NBA record (11.4) for lowest turnover average.
Reserve guard Lou Williams averaged a team-best 14.9 points a game, becoming the first player to lead his team in scoring without starting a single game since the Charlotte Hornets’ Dell Curry did so in 1993-
Guard Jrue Holiday (13.5) and forwards Thaddeus Young (12.8), Andre Iguodala (12.4) and Elton Brand (11.0) are the Sixers’ other double-figure scorers.
Collins said after the playoff clincher Monday night in New Jersey that his team has “really, really come back strong” from its extended slump. The Sixers won four consecutive games before dropping their season finale Thursday in Detroit.
“I just think now we’ve got a lot of guys playing well,” Collins said.
“We definitely had higher aspirations than the eighth seed,” center Spencer Hawes said Monday, “but to be playing well heading into (the playoffs) helps out. To right the ship in time feels good.”
The Sixers, making their fourth postseason appearance in five years, have not won a series since 2003.