The City of Chicago is ready to host its first playoff game of the year when the Bulls and Nets square off at the United Center on Thursday night. Starting the postseason on the road is a relatively new phenomenon for the Bulls. They finished with the best record in the NBA the last two seasons and have enjoyed home-court advantage.
But starting out on the road may actually work in the Bulls favor as Games 3 and 4 will both be at home and the team has a real chance to get a stranglehold on this series.
But the game still has to be played on the court and here are a few things Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls must do in order to take a 2-1 lead in the series.
1. Keep Deron Williams Under Control: The former Fighting Illini star torched the Bulls in Game 1 for 22 points while dishing out seven assists. Game 2 was a different story as the point guard pulled a disappearing act and went 1-9 in the game. You have to believe Williams will try and assert himself offensively and put pressure on the defense. Chicago must find a way to keep him under control – especially in pick-and-roll situations – and not let him beat them.
2. Slow Down Brook Lopez: The Nets All-Star center is averaging 21 points per game in the series. He’s not going to do much on the glass, but he’s a very capable scorer either in the low-post or out to about 20 feet. With Joakim Noah being injured and unable to guard Lopez effectively, he’s hurt Chicago with his offense, but the team must find a way to force him into a bad outing.
3. Continue to Attack the Glass: The Bulls had three players grab double-digit rebounds in Game 2 and they will need to continue to keep their rebounding energy and effort at a high level in order to give themselves a chance to win. The Nets have very capable rebounders in Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries and they’ve done a good job in keeping them in check on the boards and will need to continue to do so.
4. Guard Against the Joe Johnson Explosion: Going back to his days in Atlanta, the Bulls – and their fans – are all too familiar with Joe Johnson; a very good player who is paid like a superstar but doesn’t always play like one. So far in this series he hasn’t made much of an impact, but you know he won’t be dormant for too long. He has the ability to go off at any given moment and the Bulls have to make sure that doesn’t happen in Game 3 because he is a player who has the ability to beat you by himself when he gets on a roll.
5. The Bench Must Score: With Jimmy Butler in the starting lineup now, Tom Thibodeau has some pretty good offensive weapons on the bench in Rip Hamilton, Marco Belinelli and of course, Nate Robinson. Those three players need to be able to put points on the board to offset the scoring by the Nets reserves who are deep and have the ability to score in bunches.
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