Upon first glance, these two teams couldn’t be more different.
On one side, the Washington Wizards. A team finally returning to the playoffs after waiting since 2008, boasting a roster with a bright future thanks to two young stars and the right mix of veteran talent.
On the opposite side is a team at the other end of that spectrum. The Chicago Bulls have made the playoffs for the sixth straight season and are playing to try and prevent the imminent breakup of their current core of players. They have the veteran talent, they have experience. They have the go-to players and All-NBA candidates.
The Bulls had every right to quit on this season when Derrick Rose was lost for the season back in November. They wobbled for a while after that as the team looked to have been spiritually broken. Things had begun to stabilise when the front office shipped Luol Deng off to Cleveland to avoid paying into the luxury tax for a non-contender.
That trade was like a gut-punch at first but served to light a fire under the players. This core was brought together in 2010 and has had just one Conference Finals appearance. The entire locker-room new this was the last go around and the Deng trade only drove that fact home harder.
Joakim Noah has been the nuclear reactor-like core at the heart of this team. While Kirk Hinrich’s shooting has improved since January, D.J. Augustin may have resurrected their offense and Taj Gibson has played into contention for the Sixth Man award, Noah’s improvement from defensive stopper and sometime playmaker to potential Defensive Player of the Year and a player capable of running the offense is inspiring.
Washington, for their part, has suffered their own kind of purgatory, one consisting of repeated trips to the NBA Draft and bad injury luck of their own. Throw in one Gilbert Arenas disaster for good measure.
This return to the postseason marks a hugely successful season for a young core backed by savvy veterans. John Wall will finally get to unleash Playoff John Wall on the world and Bradley Beal can increase his standing as one of the league’s hottest young prospects.
With a rotation filled out by journeymen and cast-offs, the Wizards certainly are carrying a chip on their shoulder. Marcin Gortat was not considered as part of the future of Phoenix’s rebuild and was flipped to the Wiz for a broken Emeka Okafor. Beside Nene, he creates one of the East’s underrated frontcourt tandems, so long as they remain healthy.
Team Vs Team
This is a battle between guards and between big men. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson will try to make the paint a no-fly zone for John Wall and Bradley Beal while Marcin Gortat and Nene try to slow down Noah and Gibson from cutting their defense to shreds.
Game 1: Wizards 102, Bulls 88 (United Center, 1/13/14)
The Wizards shot 59 percent and led by 13 at halftime on a night they received contributions from across their rotation. This game signalled the end of the Bulls five-game winning streak to start 2014 and came a week or so after the Deng trade.
Game 2: Bulls 93, Wizards 96 (Verizon Center, 1/17/14)
Again Washington shot out to a lead, scoring 30 first-quarter points. John Wall pretty much did what he wanted on his way to 23 points and 11 assists. This game will hopefully not be repeated in this series, as the two teams combined for a total of five field goals in the final 5:16 of the fourth quarter.
Game 3: Bulls 96, Wizards 78 (Verizon Center, 4/5/14)
The Bulls finally got a win and a convincing win at that. The Bulls held the Wizards to just 16 points in the opening twelve minutes and only 10 points in the second quarter, leading 52-26 at halftime. D.J. Augustin and Kirk Hinrich combined to hit 9 of 15 threes.
Game 1: Sunday, April 20th | at Chicago | 7pm ET | TNT |
Game 2: Tuesday, April 22nd | at Chicago | 9:30pm ET | TNT |
Game 3: Friday, April 25th | at Washington | ESPN |
Game 4: Sunday, April 27th | at Washington | 1pm ET | ABC |
*Game 5: Tuesday, April 29th | at Chicago | TBD |
*Game 6: Thursday, May 1st | at Washington | TBD |
*Game 7: Saturday, May 3rd | at Chicago | TBD |
* – if necessary.