Taj Gibson had a huge smile on his face minutes after the Bulls’ 96-78 victory April 5 in Washington.
The Bulls had just frustrated and confused the Wizards, and the game was essentially over with two quarters to play.
“Yeah, they were [ticked off],’’ Gibson said of the Wizards’ reaction to the Bulls’ physical play. “They were taking shots they normally don’t take. We were taking away the long half-court passes, the cross-court passes. We were double-teaming a couple of their strong shooters, and it worked out well. We were trying to frustrate them, and we did.’’
Get used to it, Washington. This first-round playoff series against the Bulls will be filled with doubt and frustration.
John Wall vs. Kirk Hinrich: If Wall played for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, he would have a league MVP trophy sitting above his fireplace by now. This is Wall’s chance to establish himself as an elite point guard on a bigger stage. The problem is, the Bulls have done a good job of making Wall work hard for every basket even though he averaged more than 20 points in the three meetings. Credit Hinrich for that. The Bulls’ cross-matching on defense has been effective against Wall. If Hinrich is having problems with Wall, Jimmy Butler is versatile enough to slide over and give Wall problems.
The game plan will be simple: Make Wall work and force him to do his damage from outside. The best way to neutralize his speed is to make him a jump shooter rather than a driver who disrupts the defense’s spacing.
Bradley Beal vs. Jimmy Butler: In that Bulls victory April 5, Butler had only three points on 1-for-9 shooting, but Thibodeau still credited him with an unbelievable game. He had six rebounds and nine assists and ran Beal off the three-point line all night. Beal was 0-for-3 from three-point range and was one of those frustrated players Gibson referred to.
Butler needs to be more of a scoring threat, but his first job is to get Beal off his game, a job he has excelled at this season.
Marcin Gortat vs. Joakim Noah: These two might match up against each other early, but the Wizards could go with Nene if Noah’s athleticism is too much for Gortat. That means more cross-matching with Carlos Boozer on Gortat. Either way, Noah is a matchup nightmare for the Wizards because of the way he runs the floor and his passing.
Nene vs. Carlos Boozer: Boozer’s job will be to establish a low-post presence in the first and third quarters, then get the towel ready to wave in the fourth. Nene has been slowed by injuries all season, and minutes could be an issue, especially if his conditioning is lacking.
Trevor Ariza vs. Mike Dunleavy: Don’t discount Ariza’s abilities, especially if he’s knocking down his three-point shot. The good news for the Bulls is that Dunleavy might not be the best one-on-one defender, but he knows how to disrupt opposing shooters and is also smart enough to funnel the drive to the help defense in the paint. Dunleavy held Ariza to two points two weeks ago.
The additions of Drew Gooden and Andre Miller were sneaky good moves, and Al Harrington has shown flashes. Martell Webster is a key for the Wizards, as well. Washington has more depth than the Bulls but not as much talent.
Gibson is a sixth-man-of-the-year candidate, and D.J. Augustin torched the Wizards for 25 points April 5.
Randy Wittman vs. Tom Thibodeau: One coach is playing checkers, hoping to get lucky on a double jump, while the other is playing chess and going bishop to knight 2. Give Thibodeau Washington’s roster, and they would’ve finished with the No. 1 seed in the East.
It’s the Wizards’ speed and youth against the Bulls’ defense, physical play and experience. In other words, it’s a quick series for the Wizards and a see-you-next-year.
Prediction: Bulls in five.