Deron Williams & Co. Face Hard-Nosed Bulls
Derrick Rose isn’t playing (yet), and that means Deron Williams is ready for the spotlight in his first playoff stint as a Net. “I feel good, I definitely feel confident. I’m excited about being back in the playoffs; it’s been two years since I’ve been there. I’m ready to go,” said Williams after Wednesday’s win over Detroit. Williams last played postseason ball in 2010, for the Utah Jazz, and averaged over 24 points per game. This time, though, he won’t be dishing to Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko, and Paul Millsap. He’ll go to battle with Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, and the grizzled vet Reggie Evans.
The Well-Paid Backcourt
For the Nets, at least. Nate Robinson’s salary doesn’t come near Joe Johnson’s.
Deron Williams has looked fantastic during the second half of the season, there’s no arguing that. It’s been quite the turnaround from the first half when Tyshawn Taylor was winning games in his absence and making fans totally forget about him. Williams’ second-half outburst started with an efficient 19-point performance against the Bucks at home on February 19th, and was highlighted by a 42 point night against the Wizards March 8th, where he tied an NBA record with 11 three-pointers. While the assists have really been up-and-down the entire year, his scoring has been steady after the all-star break, and he finished off 2012-13 with a 44% rate from the field. He’s scoring like he should be, and that’s going to need to continue if the Nets want to knock off the physical Bulls.
Joe Johnson has not quite lived up to his max contract, but he’s still been there for the Nets to hit shots in the clutch. Going forward in the playoffs, view Johnson as a shot-maker, and he won’t disappoint (unless he’s still playing through pain). All Brooklyn needs him to do is knock down threes in big moments, and he should be capable of this since he told the media on Wednesday he was feeling good.
For the Bulls, Nate Robinson can really just have his way scoring the basketball on any given night, but as long as he’s not doing that every game, the Nets guards should be able to beat Robinson and Belinelli. Marco Belinelli does worry me, though, as he’s been able to score in big moments of the game, and can shoot the three well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him burn the Nets late in a few of these games.
The bigs are “ready to go” and ready to back Brook Lopez up, Brooklyn’s starting Center said earlier in the week. It’s going to be a bit easier if Joakim Noah isn’t out there on the floor, but Brook Lopez is very capable, and an All-Star at his position.
Reggie Evans has really been something. Remember when there was a desperate cry for a starting-caliber Power Forward before the trade deadline? Me neither. Evans has gotten physical in the post all year, but it wasn't until late in the season that he finally started scoring. With him and Lopez percolating, they'll match up well with Chicago inside. Look out for Boozer-vs-Evans at the 4, it's going to be fun to witness. Boozer wants to show his old teammate Deron Williams that he's still got it. The two seem to be good friends, as Williams smiled and said he was looking forward to playing Boozer when I asked him, but you never know how chippy Boozer will get.
Boy, Gerald Wallace has really lost his shot, and his confidence...and even his health. The second half hasn't treated him well. He's going to do a very good job guarding Luol Deng, who's the best player on the floor for Chicago and one of the best shooters. On offense, though, I'm not even giving Wallace a chance, at least when Deng is on him. If Wallace can pull himself together and somehow win this matchup, the Nets will win that game.
For Chicago, I have to go Kirk Hinrich. His experience and his shot will keep the Bulls in any game Nate Robinson shoots them out of. And for the Nets, I'll continue to support MarShon Brooks. What do we remember about the playoffs? Big scoring performances. What can Brooks do? Score. If he's given the playing time, I think he's going to go off in one of these games. In addition, there really isn't a huge matchup problem caused by his sometimes lackluster defense, so I give the kid a shot in this series.
Me: Without Derrick Rose, and a 100% Joakim Noah, the Nets will manage to squeak by thanks to great scoring performances by Deron Williams, and tough play from Reggie Evans. It’s unbelievable to think about, but Evans may be the difference in this series. Nate Robinson will be good, but he won’t be D-Rose good. it’s a shame, because the Bulls might be right there with the Heat in the East if they have him. Nets in 6.
Julian Atienza: The Bulls may have the 3-1 season series advantage, but the Nets have more healthy players. While injury doesn't seem to have hindered the Bulls in the regular season, the Nets can wear down the thin Bulls lineup if they can execute their usual inside-outside gameplan. If Joe Johnson is not feeling after-effects of his heel injury, the Nets should have the late game advantage they have been lacking at times this season. Broooooklyn in 7.