With Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah likely out due to injury, Luol Deng will be leading the way for the Bulls on Brooklyn this evening
Well, it's finally here. The playoff game the Nets have been waiting to play for nearly seven years now. And their opponent, the Chicago Bulls, are about as snake-bit by injuries as any team in the Eastern Conference. Everyone knows about the Derrick Rose knee injury that has precluded the star point guard and Chicago native from playing at all since the 2012 playoffs. But with the recent flare-up of center Joakim Noah's plantar fasciitis issue, the Bulls may be without two of their best players when they open up their postseason odyssey at the Barclays Center.
On the other hand, the Nets are relatively healthy heading into this opening game, and will have their entire compliment of depth at their disposal. Right off the bat, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez should greatly benefit from the absence of their opposing numbers.
Deron will most likely be going up directly against Kirk Hinrich, a solid scorer but not someone who should scare D-Will in terms of defense. Rose, when healthy, is one of the best defensive guards in the NBA who is always amongst the league leaders in steals. Also, Hinrich–at 6'4"–is pretty lanky for a point guard, a fact that the shorter Williams may be able to exploit in dribble moves to get separation on jumpshots (the classic D-Will crossover into a jumper) or in drives to the hoop (crossover off the dribble).
Brook may be the biggest beneficiary of Chicago's injury struggles as Noah, a fellow Eastern Conference All-Star this season, is one of the tougher big-men in the league. As we have seen when Brook plays star centers like Dwight Howard, he tends to fade away late in games when he faces an opponent that plays physical with him and pushes him around. Noah is that kind of player, so his probable injury-absence should allow the Nets' center to play like he normally does, free and easy with an array of dunks, lay-ins, step-back banked-jumpers, and maybe even a few putbacks.
This shouldn't be too hard for the All-Star to do, as Noah's likely replacement will be Nazr Mohammed, Chicago's backup center. In fact, he was someone the Nets pursued this past summer to beef up their frontcourt. However, the Bulls were able to snag the long-time. Missing out on Mohammed led the Nets to sign another veteran big-man to a minimum deal. That player? None other than Andray Blatche.
But just missing Rose and Noah by no means depletes Chicago's deep roster. Fellow All-Star Luol Deng–who went to high school in New Jersey–is Tom Thibodeau's jack-of-all-trades at small forward, scoring 20 points when the Bulls aren't hitting shots or grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking five shots when the defense is ineffective. They have a lot of guys like Deng on this team, with gritty, hard-nosed players like Brooklyn native Taj Gibson, pesky Nate Robinson, Carlos Boozer, and Jimmy Butler all over the roster.
Add in pure shooters like Marco Belinelli–who seems to average 15-20 points a game when playing the Nets–Daequan Cook, and Richard Hamilton, and you get an incredibly-balanced squad that even with two major injuries, is very formidable, especially in a best-of-seven series like this one.