Can Bulls, Lakers even the score?

Five writers forecast big Game 2s between the Hawks and Bulls, Lakers and Mavericks

Originally Published: May 4, 2011
ESPN.com

Bynum-ChandlerAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Lakers' frontcourt has long been a source of strength. Now would be a good time to use it.

For the Bulls, what a week. Tom Thibodeau receives the coach of the year award, and the same night, the Hawks shock the Bulls while Derrick Rose turns his ankle on the final play. Then Rose has his expected MVP award confirmed. He will receive it Wednesday night, then has to lead the Bulls with a sore ankle, a target on him and his team on his back. Bottom line: The Bulls are down 1-0 and have to win Game 2.

Meanwhile, the goings-on in Laker Land, where people are still stunned by the Mavericks' huge comeback win Monday, are no less momentous. Kobe and Phil are being questioned, Dirk and J-Kidd are being lauded, and scripts are being rewritten.

To help us get a handle on the surprises of Monday and what to expect Wednesday, we have multiple voices for these multiple choices:


1. Which five words best sum up Hawks-Bulls Game 1?


A. Hawks were better team Monday
B. Hawks made some unlikely shots
C. Bulls weren't ready to rock
D. Maybe we overrated the Bulls
E. [Write your own headline here]

Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: E. Maybe we underrated the Hawks. Derrick Rose is the best player in the series, but the Hawks have more tools offensively. Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford are streaky, but they can carry an offense. Al Horford is the best low-post player in the series. And Josh Smith can swing things for or against Atlanta. The Hawks are capable of repeating what happened in Game 1.

Devin Kharpertian, Nets Are Scorching: E. Hawks tough matchup for Bulls. Chicago doesn't have a wing stopper it can throw at Joe Johnson. When Johnson is on, like he was in Game 1 (12-for-18, 34 points), Atlanta is a difficult team to beat. That said, JJ can't shoot 5-for-5 from 3 every game, nor can he sustain that kind of production without attacking the basket.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: E. Derrick Rose is not well. Jeff Fogle over at Hoopdata has detailed the precipitous decline in Rose's free throw attempts since he sprained his ankle in Game 1 against the Pacers. The Bulls rely so heavily on his offensive production, which was fine when Rose was superhuman. A bum wheel has slowed him down, and that uncertainty has the Bulls (aside from Kyle Korver) looking skittish on both ends of the court.

Jeff Skibiski, Forum Blue & Gold: A. Hawks were better team Monday. Joe Johnson played like a superstar, the Hawks' role players stepped up and they benefited from a big, confidence-building first quarter. But it's hard to imagine that they'll repeat that effort three more times against Chicago's usually air-tight defense.

Michael Wallace, Heat Index: E. Time to give Hawks credit. What more do these Hawks have to do in the playoffs to get any sort of nod from the naysayers? When they're on their game, their combination of athletes, jump shooters and length make them matchup nightmares. The problem is, the Hawks will soon have to deal with expectations, which is not their strength.


2. Which five words best forecast Hawks-Bulls Game 2?


A. Bulls begin faster, finish job
B. If Rose hobbled, Bulls lose
C. Joe, Jeff, Jamal still ballin'
D. Hawks can't do that again
E. [Write your own headline here]

Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: A. Bulls begin faster, finish job. The Bulls have led at halftime in just one of their six playoff games this season. That worked OK against Indiana. But even though the Hawks certainly aren't an elite team, they're much more comfortable closing out games than the Pacers. If the Bulls continue to start slow, they'll pay for it.

Devin Kharpertian, Nets Are Scorching: D. Hawks can't do that again. If anyone knows how to stop an opponent, it's Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau. Atlanta probably will still make things interesting, but expect Johnson and the Hawks to fall back to earth. Chicago shouldn't lose two straight at home.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: A. Bulls begin faster, finish job. Chicago played about eight minutes of its signature, iso-inducing defense in Game 1. Expect the Bulls to put together far more than that Wednesday. Most defenses react to their opponent's offense, but the Bulls have the ability to dictate the terms on that end. In general, they need to have more of an attacking mindset, and that's a good place to start.

Jeff Skibiski, Forum Blue & Gold: D. Hawks can't do that again. Atlanta's shooters are always dangerous, but to shoot more than 50 percent from the field and behind the arc against a Tom Thibodeau-coached defense? The Hawks might win another game in Atlanta, but they'll now get the Bulls' best in Game 2.

Michael Wallace, Heat Index: A. Bulls begin faster, finish job. If only because it's impossible to start any slower than they did in Game 1, when the Hawks scored the game's first nine points before Chicago got going. Atlanta is great at playing with the lead, because it milks the shot clock with all that isolation. Expect Rose and Boozer to find their rhythm early and even the series.


3. Which five words best sum up Mavs-Lakers Game 1?


A. Mavs wanted it, took it
B. Lakers lost focus, couldn't recover
C. Kobe just shot too much
D. Paradigm shift is taking place
E. [Write your own headline here]

Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: E. These aren't Avery Johnson's Mavs. Dallas has had two of the highest-profile playoff meltdowns in the past decade. The formula for postseason success involves having a superstar player, taking care of the ball and playing tough defense. The Mavs have all of those things and the type of toughness needed to win this series.

Andy Kamenetzky, ESPN Los Angeles: E. Everyone needs to play better. For all the talk about Kobe's shot selection -- which certainly became too iso-happy and prolific -- other problems persisted. Andrew Bynum and the bench (save Lamar Odom) did nada. Ron Artest and the net didn't cooperate. Pau Gasol's presence wanes. Throw in some bad execution and questionable decisions by Phil Jackson, and the onus to improve is team-wide.

Devin Kharpertian, Nets Are Scorching: E. Mavs wanted it; Lakers faltered. The Lakers left the door open and the Mavs didn't back down, even when Dallas was down 16 in the third quarter. As always, Los Angeles went to Kobe Bryant down the stretch, but in the final five minutes, Kobe made a costly turnover and missed three of the five jumpers he took, including a good look at the game winner as time expired.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: E. Lakers just not that dominant. The Lakers just aren't good enough to win in the playoffs with a B or B-minus performance anymore -- multiple players need to have big games. I actually thought Kobe was quite good in Game 1, but his 50 percent usage rate, decent field goal percentage and zero assists reveal the Mavs' game plan: take their chances one-on-one with Kobe, and focus energy on rebounding, Gasol and Bynum.

Jeff Skibiski, Forum Blue & Gold: B. Lakers lost focus, couldn't recover. The Lakers fell asleep at the wheel in the final 16 minutes of the game, and the Mavs -- idle passengers for most of the game -- grabbed control. Dallas did some good things out there (Dirk Nowitzki and outstanding bench production come to mind), but the Lakers lost this game more than the Mavs won it.


4. Which five words best forecast Mavs-Lakers Game 2?


A. Kobe, Phil right the ship
B. Mavs prove they're for real
C. Lakers get calls, Cuban fumes
D. Unpredictable series takes new twist
E. [Write your own headline here]

Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: E. Lakers remember they have bigs. Kobe Bryant took more shots in Game 1 (29) than Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom combined (28). Dallas defends well, but there's not a team left in the playoffs that should be able to effectively control that Lakers front line for an entire series. L.A. will get back in it by playing inside-out.

Andy Kamenetzky, ESPN Los Angeles: A. Kobe, Phil right the ship. Lakers losses are typically treated like impending apocalypses, but perspective should be maintained. (A) Dallas is a quality team, so a road win isn't shocking, and (B) as poorly as the Lakers' second half went, the problems were largely about execution (and weird late sequences), rather than something Dallas "exposed." Ultimately, Game 1 feels more wasteful than alarming.

Devin Kharpertian, Nets Are Scorching: D. Unpredictable series takes new twist. This series is going to be a battle to the finish. Neither team gave an inch in Game 1, and the outcome hung in the balance until the final buzzer. Expect the same in Game 2 and in the games that follow.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: E. Lakers guard the 3, win. Stopping Dirk is like trying to stop a waterfall with your hand. But stopping J.J. Barea, Peja Stojakovic and Jason Kidd from shooting wide-open 3s is more manageable. The Mavs aren't one-dimensional, but they've attempted and made significantly more 3-pointers than any other playoff team. The Lakers can still win in six if they systematically choke out these opportunities.

Jeff Skibiski, Forum Blue & Gold: E. Lakers' bigs come up big. After a breakthrough first round against New Orleans' undersized front line, Andrew Bynum didn't fare nearly as well against Tyson Chandler and the like. The Lakers center has shown an aptitude for responding well to criticism, though, and using it as motivation. If he and Pau Gasol play well, L.A. heads to Big D all tied up.


5. What is your advice for Kobe Bryant after Monday's zero-assist game?

NAME
Bryant

A. Kobe, just keep on shooting
B. Kobe, pass the dang ball
C. Kobe, please check Pau's pulse
D. Kobe, please wake up Drew
E. [Write your own headline here]

Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: A. Kobe, just keep on shooting. Bryant has in the past responded to criticisms of his shot selection by not shooting, as if he's capable of being only a scorer or a distributor, not both, in the course of a game. For the Lakers' sake, let's hope that's not how he responds to his Game 1 performance. He's sure to have favorable matchups against some of the Mavs' perimeter defenders.

Andy Kamenetzky, ESPN Los Angeles: E. Mix it up more, Kobe. The issue isn't entirely shot count (although volume certainly does matter), but shot generating. Too many iso-jumpers, especially in the second half, and not enough variety from Bryant. Yes, several dropped, but the approach ultimately creates predictability and stagnation. Attack the rim. Work off ball for looks. And yes, facilitate, which is how the Lakers are most dangerous, anyway.

Devin Kharpertian, Nets Are Scorching: E. Kobe, just trust your teammates. Only two other Lakers attempted a field goal in the last five minutes: Ron Artest missed a tip-in off a missed Kobe 3, and Derek Fisher missed a desperation 3 late in the shot clock. At some point, being The Man means knowing how to defer. Not every possession hangs on you.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: D. Kobe, please wake up Drew. I'm not sure it's really Bryant's responsibility to get Bynum to play harder, but five rebounds in 29 minutes? Say what you want about Gasol's alarming struggles, but he still contributed 11 boards and led the team in assists with seven. For the Lakers to win, Bynum, who carries little defensive responsibility compared to Pau, can't get outscored by Tyson Chandler.

Jeff Skibiski, Forum Blue & Gold: A. Kobe, just keep on shooting. Bryant came out aggressive, but the rest of his teammates were flat and seemed perfectly content with deferring to No. 24. It worked for two and a half quarters but came back to bite the Lakers down the stretch when no one else appeared willing to help Kobe carry the mantle.


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