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updated: 4/17/2014 10:12 PM

Can Bulls' balanced style succeed in playoffs?

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  • The work ethic of center Joakim Noah and the rest of the Bulls could carry them deep into the playoffs.

    The work ethic of center Joakim Noah and the rest of the Bulls could carry them deep into the playoffs.
    Associated Press


For the time being, Bulls fans can feel good about the team's fortunate playoff draw and gloat about Brooklyn sneaking through the basement door to get to the No. 6 seed.

But the fun may not last long. The Bulls had a great run in the regular season, but the makeup of this team defies every convention of NBA playoff basketball.

The playoffs are for superstars. When teams play seven games in a row, they quickly learn every play, every move, every adjustment. That's usually when the games come down to giving it to your best player and hoping the defense can't stop him.

The Bulls had this last year with Nate Robinson. Now the offense requires precision. Set a screen for D.J. Augustin and hope the defender gives him room to shoot. Or get it to Joakim Noah and hope he can either drive and dish, or hit someone on a backdoor cut.

It's certainly possible the Bulls could beat Washington in the first round and give Indiana fits in the second round. They'll just have to do it with a non-tradition style.

Game 1 at the United Center is not until Sunday at 6 p.m. The Bulls took the day off after losing to Charlotte in overtime on Wednesday. But the network analysts were talking, and here's a sample of their opinions on the Bulls, starting with ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy, one of coach Tom Thibodeau primary mentors and biggest fans.

"It will succeed, to a point," Van Gundy said. "You can only go so far with that. This is the thing I have such respect for their coaches and players about: They absolutely max out their group every year.

"They are a hungry team, and they come ready to play as much as anyone in the NBA. What happens in the playoffs is everyone is ready and excited. So, yeah, their margin of error is super small.

"But I do think they'll figure out how to beat a young, inexperienced Wizards team who is clearly more talented. They are more physically gifted than the Bulls, but I think the Bulls will figure out how to win that series. I think it will be a hard-fought, 4-1 series, but I think it will be a challenge."

The Bulls produced the best record in the Eastern Conference since Jan. 1 (36-16). During that time, they had six players average in double figures, led by Augustin at 15.9 ppg. Not that it's relevant now, but Augustin wouldn't have been available to join the Bulls had he not been released by Toronto in December.

"It just shows you, if I was a backup point guard, I'd be signing in Chicago every year, because I know I'm going to up my value and get paid," Van Gundy said. "All of them get put into position where they can play their very best."

Back in the old days when Derrick Rose used to play for the Bulls, he could do it all himself in the fourth quarter of playoff games. Robinson had one of the most amazing games in Bulls playoff history last year against Brooklyn. Augustin helped salvage this Bulls season, but he's not a guy who will do it all himself.

"For the Bulls, there's no Nate Robinson, there's no (Marco) Belinelli," NBATV's Dennis Scott said. "If you're D.J. Augustin and Mike Dunleavy, can they bring that same firepower that Nate Robinson and Belinelli brought last year?

"I'm not sure, so I think the Wizards have a great chance of winning this thing."

TNT's Reggie Miller agreed the Bulls have their work cut out.

"Come playoff time, teams take certain things away," Miller said. "I'm not quite sure the Bulls have that one go-to player, without Derrick Rose, that can get them over the hump. When you get locked in a best-of-seven series, when you're playing by committee, everyone has to play well every single game.

"It's very tough to do come playoff time."

TNT's Chris Webber didn't disagree with that notion but gave Thibodeau's Bulls a unique playoff plug.

"I think they're in the category of San Antonio where every year we always count them out," Webber said of the Bulls. "I trust their system of 'next guy up.' I trust their work ethic.

"Whereas other teams will try to up the work ethic in the playoffs, these guys already are probably at most team's playoff intensity during the year. So I just think they have to rely on what got them here."

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