Call me an eternal optimist, but 2009 appears to be a banner year for Chicago sports. It may be the first year ever that all 5 major sport teams (Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs, and White Sox) may actually all make the playoffs. The Bears have Jay Cutler, the easiest schedule in the upcoming season, and the most prime-time night games. The Blackhawks… well, I would break down the Blackhawks more for you, but I know as much about hockey as my dog does about astrophysics. Cubs and White Sox were both picked to win their respective divisions by virtue of the Vegas odds. And the Bulls clinched a playoff spot by winning 12 of their last 16 games, fighting their way in to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Their opponent is the 2nd seed Boston Celtics, the defending NBA champs. Let’s break it down.
But first, let me preface my breakdown by letting you know probably the most important fact of the NBA playoffs: Kevin Garnett’s injury will keep him out of the entire playoffs.
Point Guard: Derrick Rose vs. Rajon Rondo
This matchup, with Garnett out, is arguably the most important matchup in this series. See, Garnett is one of the reasons Rondo has been playing so well these past two seasons. If you look at pre-KG Rondo and post-KG Rondo, they are almost two completely different players. You can see the effect of a good big man on a guard in players like Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo—their games fully develop in to what people expected, and in Rondo’s case, exceeds it. This season, Rondo has emerged as a top 5 payoff point guard, a place the Derrick Rose is undoubtedly headed.
The question of Rose’s ability lies in whether or not the rookie point guard can adjust to NBA Playoff basketball. Rose is coming off a season at Memphis where he played 40 games. In high school, he played about 30. Going in to this series, he has 82 games under his belt. Rose unquestionably has the talent, but will going almost 90 games—more than double last year—be too much?
The matchup here, talent-wise, is a wash. I give Rondo the nod for playoff experience.
Shooting Guard: Ben Gordon vs. Ray Allen
This matchup features Ray Allen against the second coming of Ray Allen. Think about it. Both are former UCONN guards who led the school to its last two NCAA championships. Both were drafted after their junior seasons in the NBA lottery (Allen in ’96 to Minnesota, Gordon in ’04 to the Bulls).Both are big time scorers who specialize in clutch three-point shooting.
I give the edge to Gordon because he is 8 years younger, in a contract season, and doesn’t have arthritic ankles.
Small Forward: John Salmons vs. Paul Pierce
Pierce easily gets the nod here. Arguably one of the top 5 or 6 players in the league, Pierce was one of the top reasons the Celtics won the title last year, especially after that Game 7 matchup against LeBron in Boston. He is efficient, tough, and a good defender. Salmons will have his hand full the entire series.
Power Forward: Tyrus Thomas vs. Glen “Big Baby” Davis
This matchup is between two third year players who were teammates on the ’06 LSU Final Four team Davis and Thomas have both come on of late, really picking up the intensity and quality of their games.
I give the nod to Thomas solely for the reason the Davis was caught crying on the bench (PS- The nickname preceeded the crying).
Center: Joakim Noah vs. Kendrick Perkins
Certainly the lowest profiled matchup of the series, so I will spend the least time here. Both are players who will give you 12 points and 12 rebounds per night. Kendrick’s ability to possibly score 20 points is cancelled out by Noah’s stellar on-the-ball defense.
There you go, it’s a wash.
Bench: Chicago vs. Boston
Chicago gets the nod here, with Kirk Hinrich, Tim Thomas, and Brad Miller coming off the bench. All three players give Chicago the flexibility for coach Vinny del Negro to throw out several lineups, since Hinrich can play both guard positions, Thomas can play both forward positions, and Miller can pass well and play both big-man positions.
Boston needs to rely on Stephon Marbury to play point in the playoffs, something no Boston fan is overly comfortable with. The fact the KG is out, though, turns one of Boston’s great strengths (bench play) in to a weakness, as more role players will have to step up to be a third scoring option.
Coaching: Vinny Del Negro vs. Doc Rivers
The matchup in coaching between Vinny del Negro and Doc Rivers isn’t necessarily Frazer vs. Ali. Rivers gets a slight edge because, after all, he did win a championship last year. The gap, though, is closer than you would think. Doc has been better recently, but he is only two years removed from being the subject of a 5,000 word “Fire Doc Rivers” column by ESPN’s Bill Simmons. Del Negro was the subject of scorn towards the beginning of the season, but after John Paxson made the Salmons-Miller trade at the trade deadline back in February, the Bulls have seemed to get a new life, and Vinny deserves some credit for that.
Prediction: Bulls in 6
I’ve got to say this pick is 100% different after I found out about Garnett. He should have won the MVP last year from his defensive and leadership alone. He made everyone better on his team and was the biggest X-factor in any given game. The fact that KG is gone not only depletes the Boston bench—instead of Big Baby being a 7th player, for instance, he is a 4th.
Call me an optimist, but I'm liking the Bulls chances.
Brett Fuller is the Managing Editor and Operations Manager for the LIFE network and specializes in social media engagement and content development. Visit Brett on Google Plus, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.