For all the talk about John Wall's speed, the Bulls' first-round series against Washington is more likely to hinge on pick-and-roll defense and the Bulls' ability to knock down open shots. Here's the full analysis:
No picks, few rolls:
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Washington's offense is remarkably simple. Most often, the Wizards will send a big man to set a high screen for John Wall. If nothing comes from that, the other big man will come up and set a second high screen.
If Wall is given room, he will shoot a jumper. If the defending big jumps at Wall, he will hit the screener rolling toward the basket.
If other defenders slide over to help, Wall will hit one of the spot-up shooters behind the 3-point line.
In the Jan. 13 game at the United Center, the Bulls' defense was loose, gave Wall room to operate and surrendered 102 points. The Bulls' adjustments were easy to spot.
In the next two games, they fought through screens, pushed the action in a specific direction and tried never to give the ballhandler or roller a clear path, allowing the other defenders to stay home on the shooters.
This probably is the Bulls' biggest key to success in this series, because their defense sets the tone for everything.
This might seem obvious, but the difference in this series could turn out to be shooting percentage on wide-open 3-pointers.
When the Bulls blew out Washington on April 5, D.J. Augustin went 6-for-11 from long range and Kirk Hinrich 3-for-4. When the Wizards won at the UC on Jan. 13, Trevor Ariza went 3-for-6 and Martell Webster 2-for-4.
Webster drained 4 from long range in the Jan. 17 game. On April 5, Washington's three primary shooters combined to go 0-for-8.
Overall this season, the Wizards are tied for fourth in the league in 3-point percentage at .380.
During the regular season, the Wizards' biggest edge on the Bulls was points in the paint, at plus-16. Washington's backcourt may do the most damage, but the Wizards are well-equipped to deal with the Bulls inside.
Marcin Gortat, Nene and Trevor Booker match up fairly well against Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson.
In the first game this season, Nene scored 19 points, mostly on quick fadeaway jumpers. In the second meeting, with Noah crowding his shot, Nene went 3-for-15 from the field.
Gortat gets most of his baskets off screen-and-rolls or spot-up jumpers. Booker is an energetic garbage man without much of an outside shot.
Speed limit enforced:
Based on Wall's speed, the Bulls obviously don't want to get into a track meet.
But Washington's fastbreak might be an overrated factor. During the regular-season games, the Bulls actually had more fastbreak points (37-34), and the Wizards' 100.7 points per game (16th in the league) does not suggest a breakneck pace.
One thing Washington does do well is create turnovers, ranking fourth in the league at 15.4 per game.
The Bulls can't get careless with the ball. They averaged 16.5 turnovers in the 2 losses and had just 11 in the game they won.
Washington averages 15.3 made free throws per game, second worst in the league. The Wizards don't shoot a great percentage (.731) and don't get to the line all that often. …
John Wall and Bradley Beal are postseason newcomers, but Washington has six players with at least 40 NBA playoff games under their belt: Andre Miller, Al Harrington, Marcin Gortat, Nene, Trevor Ariza and Drew Gooden. …
Carlos Boozer has been relatively successful against the Wizards this season, averaging 15.7 points while shooting 56 percent.
Nene, Washington: The veteran big man didn't play when the Bulls romped on April 5. He's coming back from two months off with a knee sprain.
Jimmy Butler, Bulls: The Bulls need all the shooters they can get, and Butler shot a frosty 28.6 percent (8-for-28) against the Wizards this season. He's starting to come around, though. Take away the 1-for-9 against Washington on April 5 and Butler is shooting 45 percent (49-for-109) in his last 10 games.
No matter the opponent, the Bulls' style of play will be put to the test in the playoffs. Playing a series of games, the Wizards are bound to learn how to deal with the Bulls' defensive pressure and gain confidence the longer this goes.
If the Bulls can't end it in 5, they might have problems.
Prediction: Bulls in 7