To be fair, this has been the busiest week personally in many a day, so while I have watched the river of previews and analyses go by, it is only six hours before the tip of game one that I can actually think about it. The upshot is, there's a lot of great stuff out there to sift through, saving me hours of work:
Blog-a-Bull, the beating pulse of Bulldom, has a solid aggregate of pretty much every playoff primer out there, which I am now re-aggregating, which is what I think Joakim Noah did to his ankle last week in New York. There is also a great Q&A with SB Nation's resident Pacers blog, Indy Cornrows.
Or if you prefer, there are Jack Ramsey-matchup style looks at it, or color-coded statistics, or even video breakdowns. I say check them all out not only because they're fantastically-done, but also because there isn't a stone left unturned. Thus I'll keep my thoughts general on the eve of the playoffs and dive into the nitty-gritty, as it were, as the series progresses.
The smart money seems to be on an early series victory for the Bulls, mostly because the only thing the Pacers consistently bring to the table is inconsistency. As Chicago found out in one of their two losses over their last 24 games, when Indy is hitting shots and playing their best, they can beat really good teams. And so as I began mentally scoring at least one win for Indiana, I remembered what Derrick Rose has done after any perceived slight this year. The dude kicks donkeys and takes monikers. And it just so happens that Indiana beat the Bulls in their own house last time out. I promise you Rose has not forgotten.
For that reason and a few others, I'll go out on a limb and call the sweep.
1. As I said, Indy can be quite good, but Rose is a nightmare matchup that will ultimately scuttle the Pacers. Point guard Darren Collison is simply overmatched, so Indiana will apparently use Dahntay Jones to try and rough Rose up, but that's only if he can stay in front of him. Not that many teams do, but Indiana definitely does not have an iso defender that can match up with the soon-to-be MVP. That rhymed. I'll give the credit to Rose. Granger is Indiana's best player and Deng is better. The only player I fear is Tyler Hansbrough, but more because of him moshing around in the same lane as Noah's injured ankle than the 20 and 10 he might put up. One of the Pacers' strengths, a deep rotation, is A) a hindrance in the postseason and B) still overmatched by the Bulls' depth.
2. As long ago as even last year's playoffs seem, it's easy to forget that the 22 year-old star has shone brighter in his biggest games nearly every single time. His playoff debut was for 36 points and 11 assists, for cripes' sake. There was the night of the Thibodeau motivation speech, which resulted in a then career-high 42 at the UC against the Spurs when they were still healthy, or any of the three Miami victories, or his efficient crushing of Boston last week, just to name a few. More than any player I've seen, probably since Kobe, Rose seems to be at his best when the pressure is cooking.
3. A motivated Rose is a dangerous Rose, and his slights list is much longer than usual. First was the loss to Indiana at home, but then Danny Granger was silly enough to say he'd prefer to play the Bulls than the Celtics. That might not seem that bad to you and I, but Rose is the same guy who absolutely put it down on the Raptors after they had the gaul to celebrate a win over the Bulls after their last meeting. And honestly, how dare they celebrate one of their best wins of the season. Top it off with his seeming self-perception of non-accomplishment for not having advanced out of the first round of the Playoffs, and I would not be surprised if Rose actually caught fire on the court at some point in this series.
There are a few things to monitor for the Bulls. Noah's ankle (and knee?) health, and the rebounding that comes with it. Ronnie Brewer's thumb, which is we-don't-know-how-badly sprained. Boozer's ailing shooting touch and the fact that he doesn''t play with his back to the basket nearly enough. Moreover, the continued (non?) development of Noah and Boozer on the floor together.
It's likely that none of these things threaten the Bulls' series chances, but they remain the most pertinent news items if you need something to worry about. I, for one, don't. After winning a championship with Boston and coaching in the NBA for 20+ years, it would be unwise to think of Thibodeau as a rookie head coach. He is well aware of what it takes to win and how a team can get beat if it isn't ready, and you can bet he has told his players all about it.
Finally, I think it important to refute the "Bulls lack playoff experience argument" in particular because it simply isn't true. Sure, Rose is young, but he's also the presumptive MVP so let's move on. Deng has seen the second round before, Boozer has been deep in the playoffs almost every year (even if he does have a soft postseason rep), as do Korver and Brewer from their shared Utah runs and Kurt Thomas may have actually been around for the invention of the playoffs. If you had to point to any player being a little light in the britches, it would have to be Taj Gibson, and even he has tasted the NBA's second season.
No, if the Bulls are to struggle at all it will be on the defensive end, which did desert them for the odd half in February and March. But with Playoff Rose, Mad Scientist Thibs and a team that has looked prepared to win nearly every time it takes the floor, it's most likely the Bulls arrive in Indianapolis up 2-0. No doubt the Pacers will make that game three "playoff underdog in that first home game" push, but if the Bulls hang around long enough for Rose to does his Mariano Rivera act, then game four would probably be a formality. And I'm not betting against Rivera. Bulls win in four.
Game One of the NBA playoffs begin at a completely-appropriate high noon CDT Saturday. ESPN has the call.