On the final day of the regular season, the Washington Wizards and the tank-to-the-6th-spot Brooklyn Nets combined to throw a monkey wrench into the playoff schedule, taking away a highly anticipated rematch of last year’s 7-game series between the Nets and the Chicago Bulls. However, the Wiz-Bulls series is one evenly matched series that could end up being another highly entertaining 7-gamer. Checking predictive stats such as margin of victory, the Bulls were fourth in the Eastern Conference (1.85) and the Wizards were fifth in the East (1.27). These are Eastern Conference teams, so they naturally have some trouble scoring and lean on their defenses to prop them up with both employing top 10 defenses over the course of the season. Prepare your mind for a drag it out, old school, slowed down playoff series with a new playoff team kicking it’s tyres against an old guard of the Eastern Conference.
Regular season matchup
Washington took the season series 2-1, winning two relatively close games before the Bulls laid the smack down in early April. The aggregate score from the season series, 277-276, suggests this will be a long, knock down, drag ‘em out series and I’m hoping this materializes.
The reason I say this series will be a drag ‘em out series is because I believe the Bulls will impose their 29th rated pace (90.2 possessions per game) on the young Wiz. This to me comes down to multiple things, but most of all it will be the coaching and how well the Bulls can, and do, execute Tom Thibodeau’s game plan of defense, defense, and more defense, night in and night out. For the Wiz to take this series, they are going to have to find ways to get easy points, whether from the free throw or 3-point lines, against the stingy Bulls defense. For everything great the Bulls do in terms of effort and cohesion, we know they will struggle to score every night (28th in the league in offensive efficiency, 103.49), and that is why this series will be decided when the Wiz have the ball.
For the Wiz to gain an advantage on this side of the ball, free throws and 3s will need to turn the tide in favor of Washington. However, these are two things the Bulls actively work to take away. In terms of free throws, the Bulls just don’t foul on defense, or at least don’t foul very much despite what many believe. They have the fourth best ratio of free throws to field goal attempts, meaning they are forcing teams to take shot after shot, without reaching the line for easy buckets. This does not bode well for the Wizards because they do a poor job of getting to the line as it is, posting a league worst ratio of free throws to field goals (.181).
Couple this with the Bulls forcing teams to shoot very poorly from the field (eFG 47.1%), and it becomes apparent that a Wiz team relying on one guy, John Wall, to create a majority of their offense might have some trouble.
What the Wiz do have going for them is their 3-point marksmanship, where they shoot 38%, good for fifth-best in the league. They have been able to consistently generate quality looks for their top 3-point shooters, Trevor Ariza (40.7%), Bradley Beal (40.2%), and Martell Webster (39.2%), even if they don’t get them at a high quantity like the Houston Rockets or Miami Heat.
It will be imperative that these 3-shooters cash in on their opportunities because, once again, the Bulls do a good job of limiting 3s. Pay close attention to the the free throws and 3s for the Wiz, as I believe these are the two key factors that they have to swing in their favor in order to win.
Sport VU goodie
The NBA has been using a technology called Sports VU all year in order to gather information on every player in every game, tracking their movement and various stats using six cameras in each arena. These stats have yielded some fun stuff for us fans to crunch, and they can be used to help us understand the game more. For each series and team, I will look at one player or one stat that will be something to watch for in the series.
For the Bulls, it is a defensive stat (duh) and it has to do with their pillars of defense, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah. Among players who have faced five or more shots per game at the rim this season, Gibson and Noah are 5th and 7th respectively in the league in opponent’s field goal percentage at the rim, at 45.7% and 46.8% respectively. If these two can keep this up and continue to not foul, it is going to be tough for the Wizards to establish an interior presence to free up their 3-point shooters.
The Wizards counter with their All Star point guard John Wall, who has been a master of the assists this season. His raw assists number of 8.8 per game is very good, but what is even better is that he has created 21.4 points per game with those assists, good for 2nd in the league. This shows that he hits about three to four 3-point shooters a game for assists, something backed up by Kirk Goldsberry’s article on Grantland earlier this week where he shows Wall assisted on the most corner 3s this season. As I have already said, 3s will be very important if the Wiz want to win.
Extra reason to watch
Every NBA team have a character or two who go above and beyond to entertain the fans. Whether it adding flair to their game, playing with an unconventional attitude, or being a generally goofy guy, these guys become easily identifiable as the season progress. In this series, we have two of the more eccentric and carefree centers in the league, Joakim Noah and Marcin Gortat.
If you are an NBA fan and don’t know about Noah’s uncommon passion, wit, and general goofiness, you must have been living under a rock for the last couple of years. Sometimes this passion becomes so demonstrative that you can’t help but look away as he seems like a crazy man yelling on the court. For this reason alone, you should tune into at least one Chicago playoff game this year, you might see something like this.
I saw it live, it was awesome.
As for Gortat, this guy is just straight up goofy. He thinks short shorts should be brought back to the NBA, he wants fighting brought back into the league, and he tweets with emoticons like he is a teenage girl. Roll all this up and you aren’t exactly sure what yuo will get on the court, for example he might end up in the wrong huddle on the court during a game.
I was getting intel! :)) pic.twitter.com/YRulix4uNm
— Marcin Gortat (@MGortat) April 3, 2014
I have the Bulls winning the series in six. Due to their suspect offense, they are prone to lose a game 85-81 to an inferior team that also gets after it on offense, but the Wizards have a bigger Achilles heal in head coach Randy Wittman. They have lost multiple close games this season because Wittman fails as a coach with lineups and general basketball knowledge, something that permeates to his team, who also are prone to bonehead plays. Couple this with my penchant for picking the best player in a series (Joakim in this case), and I have the Bulls moving on to give the Pacers a run for their money.
All stats per basketball-reference.com.
Sports VU stats come from nba.com.