It's so weird to see the Washington Wizards in the playoffs. We've talked about it so much around these parts, but to actually see it happen is surreal. That they're playing the Chicago Bulls, the same team they beat the last time they advanced past the first round, only makes it sweeter.
Where and when? Tip off is at 7 p.m. in Chicago on TNT. You can also watch Buck and Phil on CSN.
Are they good? Yes, Chicago won 48 games this year despite losing their starting point guard for the season and trading away their starting small forward for basically nothing midway through the year. Chicago blitzed opponents with the second most effective defense in the NBA and were actually better after trading away Luol Deng than they were with him. The Bulls went 27-25 before the All-Star break and 21-9 after. The latter statistic is probably the most relevant one as far as predicting Washington's fortunes. Chicago has a ton of momentum and, as we saw with Brooklyn's win over Toronto and Atlanta's win over Indiana, that can be more indicative of how good a team is than their overall record.
Who's out? Chicago's missing Derrick Rose, while Joakim Noah is listed as probable for tonight's game after dealing with the death of his mentor. Realistically, considering that it's the playoffs and Noah's picture is in the dictionary next to the word warrior, he's almost certain to play. Washington is healthy and should have everyone available.
What are they good at? Did I mention that they're a good defensive squad? Chicago's Thibodeau-designed, Noah-led defense is excellent at taking away easy buckets and high value shots from opponents by making it almost impossible for perimeter players to get all the way to the basket. They can be beaten with elite ball movement and shooting, so this could come down to a battle between John Wall's desire to take over the game as a scorer and the team's need to play patiently and move the ball around.
What are they bad at? No one on this team can really score. Their best options are D.J. Augustin, a streaky shooter who can catch fire from time to time but lacks the size and athleticism to finish plays at the rim, and Noah, who's become an elite facilitator but still isn't someone who can lead an above average offense.
Who's going to win? My heart says Washington, my head says Chicago. Yes, the Bulls are on paper the better team, and it would be foolish to discount their recent success. At the same time, Washington, with their shooting and ball movement, matches up very well with them. At the end of the day, I think that the Wizards are going to come out firing and we're going to see a big game from Bradley Beal as the Wizards steal the opener.