Once it was determined that the Chicago Bulls would be hosting the Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs, it was supposed to be an ideal matchup for this ball club.
However, a funny thing happened to the Bulls in the first two games of these playoffs.
The Wizards came into the United Center and walked out with a 102-93 victory in Game 1 followed by a 101-99 overtime victory in Game 2—their fourth win in five meetings against the Bulls this season.
Let’s take a quick look at how Chicago dropped two consecutive games at home to start this series.
Bulls’ defense must find a way to contain Nene
After missing 21 games due to a sprained knee, Nene made his first start in eight weeks for the Wizards in Game 1.
But the time off was hardly noticeable based on his performance.
He pounded the Bulls’ interior defense, scoring 24 points to go along with eight rebounds.
While Joakim Noah limited Nene to 11 points through the first four quarters of Game 2, the Wizards forward chipped in with six points in the overtime session, finishing the game with 17 points and seven rebounds.
So through the first two games, Nene is averaging 20.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest, while shooting an efficient 19-for-30 from the field (63 percent).
Most importantly, he is getting his shots from wherever he wants against the league’s top-ranked scoring defense.
Simply put, Noah and the Bulls must find a way to make Nene earn his points as the series shifts to Washington
And if they don’t, the outcome will be similar to what we’ve seen in the first two games.
Offense unable to score in crunch time
There is a reason why the Bulls are ranked last in the league in points per contest, and that reason is because they go through stretches where they have a difficult time scoring.
For example, in Game 1, Chicago began the second half with a 10-3 spurt—giving them a 64-51 lead in the third quarter.
However, Washington closed the period with a 21-11 run to cut the deficit to 75-72 heading into the fourth quarter.
Then, with an 87-84 lead with six minutes left to play, Chicago’s offense produced just six points the rest of the way.
The Wizards outscored the Bulls 18-6 during that stretch to seal the victory.
It should also be noted that Chicago missed 11 of 18 shots and was outrebounded 13-6.
And this dubious trend continued in Game 2.
The Bulls led 87-77 with seven minutes left to play, and they seemed poised to even the series at 1-1.
But once again, the offense stalled, producing only four points the rest of the period, allowing the Wizards to send the game into overtime.
Yes, some will say if Kirk Hinrich converts a pair of free throws with 2.4 seconds left in overtime, the game would have gone into a second extra session.
However, the Bulls did not lose this game because of the missed free throws.
They lost this game because of their inability to produce baskets when the game was on the line.
No matter how well this team scraps and plays defense, they haven’t been able to score late in the fourth quarter of both games.
That being said, it should surprise no one they are down 0-2.
Wizards winning “adjustments” game
Tom Thibodeau has done a phenomenal job in guiding his team to 48 wins and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
That statement is supported by the fact that he finished third in Coach of the Year voting
But his counterpart, Randy Wittman, is making all the right moves at just the right moments.
For instance, In Game 1, Washington stepped up its defensive intensity in the fourth quarter with increased ball pressure and denying the passing lanes.
As a result, the Wizards turned a 13-point deficit into a nine-point victory.
After that, Augustin became a non-factor, and the Bulls offense struggled, producing just four baskets over the final 12 minutes of the game, including overtime.
With teams having ample time to prepare for each another in the postseason, one of the keys to winning a series is how each club adjusts to its opponent.
So far, the Wizards have made all the right adjustments, while the Bulls have failed to come up with a counter punch.
And if the Bulls do not find a way to make come up with a few adjustments of their own, the Wizards will sweep this series—something very few thought was possible before the series began.
James Tillman is a Staff Writer for HoopsHabit.com and a sports contributor for Football Nation and Sports Kings/Pass The Pill. James is also a former Featured Sports Contributor for Yahoo! Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JTILLMAN9693.
Tags: Chicago Bulls