As the Bulls prepare to end the Atlanta Hawks’ season in the next week or so, I’m still not sure which helps the Bulls more:
The Hawks with Kirk Hinrich too injured to play or the Bulls with Carlos Boozer too injured to play?
With Hinrich down because of a hamstring injury, the Hawks have to start Jeff Teague. With a straight face. Teague had the job a while ago, then lost it, and now gets it back by default. Put Teague in a starting lineup that already includes center Jason Collins, and you’ve got two guys who are averaging fewer points than Keith Bogans and barely as many rebounds. Combined, I’m talking. Combined.
Starting with fewer scoring options against the best defensive team in the league is no way to go through the playoffs, son. Without Hinrich, the Hawks lose the one defender who might stand a chance against Derrick Rose and a guy who can organize an offense. Without Boozer, meanwhile, the Bulls lose nothing on defense and just a fake inside presence on offense of late.
The Bulls say they’re optimistic that Boozer will play in the series that begins tonight, though I’m not sure why they’d want that. Boozer hasn’t scrimmaged since hurting his toe in the clinching game aginst Indiana last Tuesday. He hasn’t taken contact since then, either, although I believe he already has two fouls on him.
Boozer being Boozer is one reason Kurt Thomas was brought in. Thomas is never going to get destroyed the way Boozer does, he’s going to make Hawks big man Al Horford work for his offense, and he allows Taj Gibson to stay with the Bulls’ second unit.
Boozer’s toughest matchup seems to be the first eight minutes. If he gets off, he has a game. If not, he might as well be resting his turf-toe injuy so he can make a difference against Miami or Boston.
Because this playoff series is all over and because that’s when Boozer has to show up.
Yeah, I realize the Hawks upset Orlando in six games and saved the Bulls’ signing affidavits against Magic center Dwight Homicide. I’ll give Atlanta credit for making the all-or-nothing Magic look bad.
But sorry, there’s no way the Hawks can stay with Rose short of, well, homicide. And the Bulls just don’t let opponents shoot against them. Not more than one game in a row, anyway.
While the Hawks have quality players in Horford, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, in my world the hood ornament for the Hawks is former Bull Jamal Crawford. He might be the worst defensive player in the league, maybe in the league’s history. He doesn’t even try. It’s as if he wants the Bulls to score just so he can get the ball back and jack up another shot.
That, see, is the other part of the Hawks’ weakness: stupid or undisciplined shots, take your pick. Sure, the Hawks can shoot lights out, and they probably will for one game, the one win they’ll get in the next eight days. They shot lights out in that big comeback against the Bulls the first time the teams met, but that was the only half of basketball the Hawks took from the Bulls this season.
Look, the Hawks finished near the bottom of the league in blocking shots and forcing turnovers in the regular season and ranked in the bottom half of the league in opponents’ field-goal percentage. Oh, and the Hawks aren’t much for offensive rebounds. The Pacers ranked high in most of those categories during the regular season and frustrated the Bulls terribly by winning some of those areas in the playoffs.
The only threat is playoff irritant Zaza Pachulia, and we’re talking physical threat, not offensive. Pachulia is averaging a foul about every five minutes in the playoffs, in case you’re wondering who Atlanta’s Jeff Foster might be.
Providing Rose stays healthy and Bulls players aren’t big fans of Atlanta’s world-class strip clubs, the only way this goes beyond five is if the Bulls remain too stupid or too stubborn to play the first half. That inability to prepare to play before the fourth quarter forced the Bulls to work harder against the Pacers than they should’ve had to. They figured it out by Game 5 and got some needed rest. I’m betting they figure it out quicker against the Hawks, especially if they rest Boozer.
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