Against Bulls, do Hawks have a chance?

Five writers tackle five questions on the East semifinals between Chicago and Atlanta

Originally Published: May 2, 2011
ESPN.com

Derrick RoseDennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireWith Kirk Hinrich (hamstring) on the mend, can the Hawks slow down Derrick Rose in Round 2?

When did the Hawks last win two straight playoff series? Yep, you guessed it: 54 years ago, when they won the 1957 NBA title as the St. Louis Hawks.

Since then, they are 0-18 in series played after winning a round, and their luck doesn't figure to improve much this year against the mighty Chicago Bulls, only the top seed in the NBA. But that's why they play the games. If you don't buy that, ask the Orlando Magic, just ousted by the underdog Hawks.

The Bulls faced their own challenges in Round 1, and now they have to go forward with (or without) a hobbled Carlos Boozer, while the Hawks will be without former Bull Kirk Hinrich, out with a hamstring injury.

And while the battle between former Florida two-time title teammates Joakim Noah and Al Horford isn't exactly MJ versus Dominique, this is still a series featuring soon-to-be-named-MVP Derrick Rose, several wild cards on the Atlanta side and a bit of intrigue.

For a closer look, we asked five national and local writers for their takes:


1. Let's get real: On a scale from 0 to 100, what are the Hawks' chances?


Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: One. I didn't think the Hawks had any real chance to win this series -- and that was before it was revealed that Kirk Hinrich may miss the entire thing.

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Since 1983-84, No. 5 seeds have won 27 first-round series, but are 2-24 against the No. 1 seed in Round 2, for a 7.7 percent success rate. Atlanta doesn't seem poised to defy those odds, being outscored for the season (overall), winning only one of three meetings versus Chicago and missing the one guy (Kirk Hinrich) who can most ably contain the Bulls' best player (Derrick Rose). Carlos Boozer is a better player, but for this series, Hinrich's injury is far more damaging.

Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: With a healthy Kirk Hinrich, I would have pegged the Hawks' chances at 10 of 100. Hinrich stays in front of Rose, forcing him to shoot 3s and holding him to a 44.6 effective field goal percentage (48.7 percent in all other games). With Hinrich doubtful to play, the Hawks can't handle the presumptive MVP, so I'll halve Atlanta's chances to 5 of 100.

Matt McHale, Bulls By The Horns: My gut says 50 because the Hawks are such a 50-50 team: with so much potential but so enigmatic. That said, Atlanta ranks dead last in shots at the rim, second in shot attempts from 16 to 23 feet and 29th in free throw attempts. Historically, jump-shooting teams don't do well against great defensive teams. And the Bulls are a great defensive team.

Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Initially, I would have put the Hawks' chances at a 40. But with the loss of Kirk Hinrich for likely the entire series, knock another 15 points off those chances to a 25. That was an expensive hamstring injury, taking the Hawks' top defender on Rose out of the equation.


2. Joakim Noah vs. Al Horford: Who gets the better of the frenemy battle?

NAME
Horford

NAME
Noah

Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: Horford, but not by much. The Hawks big man went off for 31 points and 16 rebounds during a March 2 battle between the two teams and Noah took it personally. He respects Horford, but he won't let that happen again. For the first time in several months, Noah is healthy. He feels great and is bouncing around the gym like he did before he had thumb surgery in mid-December.

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Horford absolutely destroyed Noah in the first meeting between these two teams, but Noah responded to play much better in the final two (all three meetings were in a three-week span in March), and has played better in the playoffs. Horford has to own this matchup for Atlanta to win the series. I think it's more likely they play to a near-draw.

Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Al Horford has to outplay Noah. In the best half the Hawks played against the Bulls this season, Horford had 22 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals and the Hawks outscored the Bulls 50-30. Otherwise, in five halves versus Chicago, Horford totaled 29 points and 17 rebounds, and the Hawks were outscored by 68 points.

Matt McHale, Bulls By The Horns: In their 10 head-to-head battles, Horford has a clear statistical edge. But Noah isn't about stats. He's a spark plug and spiritual leader. His energy and intensity swing games more than his rebounding numbers can measure. I think Horford will put up some sweet numbers, but Noah will have a greater impact.

Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Horford will put up the better numbers because he is a bigger part of his team's game plan on both ends. But Noah's role is also vital because of the intangibles. He does the dirty work. And he'll be the one saying, "See ya later, Gator" to Horford as the Bulls advance.


3. Kurt Thomas vs. Zaza Pachulia: How many faceoffs do you expect?

NAME
Pachulia

NAME
Thomas

Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: If Zaza gives Derrick Rose an extra elbow, you better believe Thomas will come in and hammer the Hawks center. Tom Thibodeau wants his players to be physical and keep their emotions in check during the playoffs. If Pachulia tries to mess with Rose, though, that message will go out of the window. The Bulls players consider him to be their little brother, and they will protect him at all costs.

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: I'll set the over-under at five. The Hawks are going to play very physically, especially against Derrick Rose when he comes into the paint, and they may start Jason Collins and use Horford at the 4 in order to provide even more beef against Chicago. The Bulls, however, aren't exactly shrinking violets, and while Thomas is the most likely enforcer, they have others (Noah, Keith Bogans, Taj Gibson) who aren't afraid to mix it up.

Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Zaza Pachulia won't need Kurt Thomas on the court to face off with someone. Plus, Zaza might see how the first two games play out, refine his target list and wait until the Hawks are back home for Game 3 to test his full range of upper body motion in front of the appreciative home crowd.

Matt McHale, Bulls By The Horns: Big Sexy was pretty chill during the first round, even after Josh McRoberts whistled an elbow across D-Rose's chin and Jeff Foster pulled a "Macho Man" Randy Savage on Luol Deng. Rumor has it he's saving his hard fouls up for the Eastern Conference finals. That said, if anybody can lure Thomas into the octagon, it's Zaza.

Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Forget the actual games. I'd much rather see this series decided by an MMA battle between Zaza and Kurt. It'd be more entertaining than the basketball. Kurt likes people to think he's a little crazy between the lines. But he'd really have to be insane to square off with Zaza.


4. Did you know: The NBA's regular-season attendance record is 62,046 in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, for a Bulls-Hawks game featuring Michael Jordan. What fun fact about the Bulls or Hawks would you like to share?

Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: Noah's nickname for his former teammate Kirk Hinrich?

Kirky Wirky.

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: How about the fact the Bulls' first-round opponent (Indiana) nearly had a better scoring margin than Atlanta, and by the end of the year was probably a better team than Atlanta? Don't get sucked in by the Hawks' first-round win -- it was an ideal matchup for Atlanta, which also won three of four against Orlando in the regular season. Against other teams -- like, say, the Bulls -- the Hawks were exposed for a lack of ball movement and defensive mettle.

Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: The last time the Hawks won a second-round playoff game: May 8, 1997, in the United Center. Mookie Blaylock made eight 3-pointers as he and Steve Smith combined to outscore Jordan and Pippen 53 to 51. Eldridge Recasner, Darrin Hancock, Jason Caffey, Robert Parish and the late Bison Dele (then Brian Williams) all played in that game.

Matt McHale, Bulls By The Horns: Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins had some amazing head-to-head battles, and not just in the 1985 and 1988 dunk contests. MJ's numbers (31.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.3 apg) won't shock anybody. What may surprise some people is what Nique did against Jordan's Bulls: 30.2 ppg, 48 percent shooting, 6.9 rpg and 2.9 apg. And Wilkins once dropped 57 points on the Bulls. Mike had "only" 41 in that game.

Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Some might consider this an opinion. I say it's a fact. Always has been. Michael Jordan robbed Dominique Wilkins of that slam dunk title in 1988. Sure, 23 years have passed, and the Bulls and Hawks organizations have moved on. But some injustices are never forgotten.


5. Which player(s) other than Derrick Rose should fans keep an eye on?

Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: Carlos Boozer. His turf toe is bothering him and his confidence is shaken, but if he doesn't bounce back and play better than he did against the Pacers in Round 1, he will be crushed by fans and media alike.

Teague

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Jeff Teague, who is going to be thrust rather abruptly into the spotlight thanks to Hinrich's hurt hammy. Teague hardly played against Orlando but has had his moments this year, and as the quickest Hawk he might make the most sense defensively against Rose. Offensively, however, he has struggled to make decent decisions and is almost comically unable to convert runners.

Jamal Crawford should get a lot more run at point guard as well, with Joe Johnson likely guarding Rose for those stretches, while the Hawks may continue starting Jason Collins at center for a bigger, more defensive-minded look.

Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Hinrich's injury may force the Hawks to give Jeff Teague a chance. In no way has the organization prepared Teague to play against Rose, but he has proved he is at least a decent backup point guard. This series could be a tremendous opportunity for Teague to change perceptions and, perhaps, the direction of the franchise's future.

Johnson

Matt McHale, Bulls By The Horns: There are so many player subplots in this series: Noah versus Horford. Carlos Boozer versus failed expectations. Joe Johnson versus his $120 million contract. Josh Smith versus shot selection. Jamal Crawford and Kirk Hinrich (if healthy) versus their old teams. Zaza Pachulia's head versus everybody. And, of course, Brian "The High Five Master" Scalabrine versus carpal tunnel.

Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Joe Johnson. He tries to avoid the media spotlight, and all he wants to do is blend in with his teammates. But when you have the biggest contract in the league, there's no hiding. Johnson has a tremendous opportunity in this series to justify the Hawks' investment and offset Rose.


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