Evan Turner wasn't the only 76ers player glad to be facing the Bulls instead of Miami in the first round of the playoffs. Philadelphia's top scorer, guard Lou Williams, joined the chorus.
"I just think it's a better matchup for us," Williams said, according to csnphilly.com. "Obviously you can't overlook Chicago; they're the No. 1 seed.
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"But competitively we feel like we have a better opportunity to go in and make more noise in a series against Chicago than we would have against a team like Miami that we haven't matched up well with in the past.
"We're playing well enough to be playing right there with any team these past couple of weeks."
All this confidence is curious, since the Sixers hit a brick wall in mid-February. After starting the season 20-9, they went 11-21 through April 17. They finally won enough games in the final two weeks to hold on to the No. 8 playoff spot.
"Initially, after the start we got off to, we had big aspirations," Sixers center Spencer Hawes said. "The fact that we are in the eighth seed should not diminish the way we were able to dig ourselves out of a tough stretch."
So why does Philadelphia believe it matches up better against the Bulls?
First of all, it has something to do with the fact that the Sixers are 1-11 against the Heat the past two seasons, including a first-round playoff loss a year ago. Going back to last season, Philadelphia has won three of its last five games against the Bulls.
It's tough to draw many conclusions based on this season. The Bulls suffered one of their worst defeats Feb. 1 at the Wells Fargo Center, losing 98-82 without Luol Deng or Richard Hamilton.
They made a return trip to Philly with a full lineup March 4 and won 96-91 as Derrick Rose piled up 35 points. Two weeks later, with Rose sitting out, the Bulls beat the Sixers 89-80 at the United Center.
This series is something of a reunion for Philadelphia coach Doug Collins, who coached the Bulls long ago, and forward Elton Brand, the Bulls' No. 1 overall draft pick in 1999. Turner is a Chicago native who played at St. Joseph High School.
Collins believes the Sixers have snapped out of their late season slump. They did string together four straight wins to seal a playoff berth, but only one of those opponents (Indiana) was a playoff team.
"I told our guys, I feel we are a better team now then when we were 20-9," Collins said. "I feel like navigating the ups and downs of this season, the highs and lows, the injuries -- I think we came out better for it on the other side. I was really pleased how our guys ended the year. I think the Indiana game was a turnaround for us. Once we won that game our guys really started believing again."
The defining traits of the 76ers are defense, balance and bench. They led the league in points allowed for most of the season before eventually dropping to third, behind the Bulls and Boston.
They have no dominant scorer, and seven players averaging between 9 and 15 points per game. Two of the top three scorers, Williams and power forward Thaddeus Young, come off the bench.
The Sixers count on Young being able to outrun the opposition's power forward. Outside of the 7-foot-1 Hawes, they use a small front line.
"They (the Bulls) have a big front line, and they board as well as any team in the league," Hawes said. "So that is a challenge that we know we have to be up to."
The Bulls will try to dominate the rebounds, but that's not automatic. Philadelphia won the battle of the boards in the first two meetings, before the Bulls built a 53-39 edge in the March 17 game in Chicago.
Between Williams and starting point guard Jrue Holiday, the Sixers have good quickness in the backcourt.
The Bulls may try counter with a small backcourt of their own. C.J. Watson scored 20 points in two of the three games against the Sixers this season.
"They're quick; they're well-balanced," coach Tom Thibodeau said Friday. "They have a number of guys who can put it on the floor. They have some good shooting, some playmaking bigs. They're deep. When you look at their second unit, to me, they have some starters coming off the bench. Holiday has blossomed into a good player. Iguodala is an all-star; Brand has been an all-star."
At the end of games, the Bulls are counting on Rose to return to his usual form quickly. He finished the season missing 17 of the last 22 contests due to groin and ankle injuries.
Philadelphia, on the other hand, is worst in the league in clutch situations. In the last two minutes of games with a margin of 5 points or fewer, the Sixers shoot 29.6 percent from the field.
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