Pippen: Bulls in line for seventh championship
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When the 2011 NBA Playoffs are said and done, it’s the Chicago Bulls who will be going home with their seventh world championship.
Yes, I’m biased because they are my team. But stop rolling your eyes, because this is a decision based on a large body of work, one which resulted in Chicago finishing an NBA-best 62-20.
When you take into account how their regular season went, finishing with the best record in the league, it’s not hard to see why the Bulls are considered a favorite. On top of that, they are playing as well as anyone in the league right now, having won nine in a row. Under Tom Thibodeau, they have become the best defensive team in the league.
The Bulls have continued to get better and better, they have the hands down MVP of the league in Derrick Rose, and he gets plenty of help from the likes of Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. They’ve faced the adversity of injuries and hardly missed a beat.
Chicago hit the All-Star break and kicked into another gear, compiling a record of 24-4 since then, best in the NBA. They’ve constantly been on the uptick and I simply don’t see another team in the NBA who has been as consistently great.
So above is my 2011 NBA Playoffs bracket, with an explanation on a few of my predictions to follow.
-- The biggest obstacle for Chicago to overcome in getting to the NBA Finals will be either the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics. Fortunately, the Bulls won’t have to go through both teams as they’d meet whoever survives in the Eastern Conference Finals, assuming they can get past Indiana and either Orlando or Atlanta.
I think that the Celtics are susceptible to a first round upset. Heading into their game with Chicago last week, New York had won seven games in a row. They seemed to be coming together after an adjustment period following the trade for Carmelo Anthony and hitting a little rhythm. The Knicks are a scary team to face in the playoffs with two legitimate scorers. Even without Amar’e Stoudemire in the lineup, they were very competitive against the Bulls. He appears to be healthy now and adds that extra dimension that will cause Boston a lot of trouble, especially now that they no longer have Kendrick Perkins. He did a lot for them defensively and helped clog up the lane. I’m not sure Shaquille O’Neal or Jermaine O’Neil can replicate the presence that he brought to the table.
With their ‘Big Three’ of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, not getting any younger, yet still providing a more than formidable core, it might be a make or break postseason for Boston. If they do get knocked out early, the Celtics’ management will have some tough decisions to make on whether they want to keep that team together or not.
-- I like the Miami Heat to get past the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round, but that’s not going to be any walk in the park. Doug Collins has Philly playing very well right now and like the Bulls, they too are very tough defensively. It took some time, but Collins has them performing the way he expects them to perform and it has brought on the results. But unless they can steal a victory in Miami, it’s probably going to be an uphill battle for them.
-- If it is the Bulls and Heat in the conference finals, I like Chicago in a seven-game, hard fought series. Both teams have a lot of pressure on them to get to this point, with the Bulls having the best record in the NBA and Miami having all of the expectations dating back to last summer.
The teams had the chance to get to know each other this season, with the Bulls sweeping the season series, 3-0. So the familiarity is there and Chicago has demonstrated the ability to defend them. Though LeBron James and Chris Bosh are new to Miami, they were with Eastern Conference teams before, so the Bulls have a feel for their style of play and what they bring to the table. The same goes for Dwyane Wade.
The success Chicago had against Miami this year will give the Bulls confidence. Even though the team can’t take any of those 62 wins into the playoffs, accomplishments like that give you an edge.
-- The Spurs were outstanding in the regular season as well, and I think a lot of the credit goes to coach Gregg Popovich. He’s had them ready all year long. They got off to a great start, but then stayed focused and maintained it. They slowed down a little bit in the second half, which enabled the Bulls to catch them. What they lack, though, is a Derrick Rose-type star player. They don’t have a LeBron or Kobe, and while it has always been like that for San Antonio, they’ve still found a way to get it done. But I don’t think they are going to be strong enough to fight off some of the younger teams, specifically the Oklahoma City Thunder. It will be a challenge for them physically to keep up with that team in a potential second-round series.
-- As for the Thunder, they have two young stars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. They acquired some valuable postseason experience last year in facing the eventual champion Lakers. Plus, with the acquisition of Perkins, they now have some size to add to their core. He’s a great complementary player who doesn’t demand a lot of shots, but works hard and helps his team win. Durant, who can score at will, is another player who has had an MVP-type year and I know he’ll be up to the challenge. They are a high powered offensive team that can easily put 100-plus points on the board. If they can do that in the playoffs, it might make up for where they lack defensively.
-- It wasn’t easy picking against the Lakers in the West, but the health of Andrew Bynum and his knee is a concern. If we know for certain Los Angeles is 100 percent healthy, then maybe I change my prediction. But with injuries, they lack that chemistry and are not at the level they have been the last two seasons. The Lakers came out of the All-Star break red hot, but then took a step back with a losing streak before the end of the season. They seem a little bit vulnerable and I expect some of these younger teams to push them. Bynum will be the key to their success. If he’s fully healthy, they could run the table.
-- If when the NBA Finals get underway in June it does end up being the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder, you couldn’t help but take note of the changing of the guard in the league. These are two teams we’ll hear a lot from in the future, as well as the Heat, who are still reasonably young. The good thing about the NBA right now is that no one team has dominated all season long. I’m not sure I would call that parody, but it allows younger teams who are on the rise the ability to put themselves in a position to content for a championship.