The Atlanta Hawks are a heavy underdog to the Chicago Bulls in the second round of the playoffs, but the talent level between the teams is a lot closer than most think.
Game 1 is not until Monday and Bookmaker.com has the Bulls as nine-point home ‘chalk’ with a total of 179 points. They’re minus 1100 in the series price with Atlanta plus 750.
Chicago was the plus 130 favorite to win the East Conference before the playoffs and has dropped slightly to plus 140, tied with Miami. Atlanta has moved from plus 3600 to 1475, still far behind Boston (plus 220) for last place.
The Bulls (66-21 straight-up, 51-34-2 against the spread) have home court advantage throughout the entire NBA playoffs after a terrific regular season. Their first round matchup against Indiana was much tougher than expected, but they still ended it in five games (going 2-3 ATS).
Chicago was lucky to win the first three games before the Pacers staved off elimination in Game 4 at home (89-84). The Bulls finally found their rhythm in the Game 5 clincher, 116-89 as 8 ½-point favorites. They failed to ‘cover’ the first two home games as 11 ½-point favorites each time.
Point guard Derrick Rose averaged 27.6 PPG in the first round and was great in crunch time, but shot just 37.1 percent from the floor. Indiana turned up the defensive pressure as the series went on and he was just 10-of-40 (25 percent) in the two games in Indy.
Rose is the likely league MVP, but he can’t win a championship alone. Luol Deng (18.6 PPG) was a solid second scorer last round, but Carlos Boozer (10 PPG) was a disappointment after scoring 17.5 PPG in the regular season.
Chicago already has two limited scorers in the starting lineup with Keith Bogans and Joakim Noah, so Rose, Deng and Boozer must all be on offensively.
Injuries could be a factor with Rose playing through a sprained ankle and Boozer suffering a turf toe last game. Boozer is listed as probable for Game 1, while Rose isn’t on the injury report.
The Bulls scored 105.3 PPG in the three home playoff games, with the ‘over’ going 2-1. They scored just 86 PPG on the road, with the ‘under’ going 2-0.
The Hawks (48-40 SU and 42-46 ATS) had a six-game upset over the Orlando Magic in the first round despite winning eight less games in the regular season. That was a revenge series as Orlando swept the Hawks in the playoffs last year.
First year coach Larry Drew deserves a lot of credit, especially after losing six-straight to end the regular season. His team went up 3-1 against Orlando, but got blown out on the road in Game 5 (101-76). Prior Hawks teams may have lost their composure after such a defeat, but they rebounded with an 84-81 clincher in Game 6.
Atlanta only averaged 86.8 PPG last round (the ‘under’ going 5-1), but had a balanced effort with five guys in double-digits, led by sixth man Jamal Crawford (20.5 PPG). Talent has never been an issue with Crawford, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford roaming the floor.
Defensively, Atlanta let up 27 PPG to Dwight Howard and 63 percent from the floor. However, everyone else was contained and the Magic shot 40.9 percent overall.
There is an injury concern as point guard Kirk Hinrich suffered a hamstring injury last game and is listed as questionable. He’s having an MRI on Friday.
Atlanta and Chicago met three times this season, all in March. Atlanta won 83-80 at home before losing badly there 114-91. Chicago also won handily (94-76) in the one game in the Windy City.
Rose averaged 32 PPG in the two wins over Atlanta and had just 12 in the loss. The team follows his lead, especially in the playoffs when a lot of games are decided in the final few minutes.
Johnson needs to increase his scoring output (18 PPG) from last series to help match points against Rose.
Atlanta really can’t afford an injury to Hinrich. Crawford is much better as instant-offense off the bench than as a starter. Plus, the bench is already thin with guards as Jeff Teague is not ready for prime-time play.
Horford and Smith are a good match up front with Noah and Boozer. Atlanta center Jason Collins will see less time this series with no burly center like Howard to guard. That shifts Horford to center, Smith to power forward and makes Marvin Williams the ‘three.'
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau is in his first year as well, but he gets the coaching edge over Drew for his defensive prowess.
This should be a close series if Hinrich doesn’t miss any games and might go the distance.
Prediction: Bulls in seven