Posted: Friday April 27, 2012 9:36AM ; Updated: Friday April 27, 2012 10:00AM
Ian Thomsen
Ian Thomsen>INSIDE THE NBA
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(1) Chicago Bulls vs. (8) Philadelphia 76ers
Eastern Conference First Round
Season Series: Bulls won 2-1
Luol Deng is a staunch defender who is also a threat to score from the seams of the Bulls' offense.
Luol Deng is a staunch defender who is also a threat to score from the seams of the Bulls' offense.
Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE
Playoff Schedule
GAME 1  at CHI, Sat. April 28, 1 p.m., TNT
GAME 2  at CHI, Tue. May 1, 8 p.m., TNT
GAME 3  at PHI, Fri. May 4, 8 p.m., ESPN
GAME 4  at PHI, Sun. May 6, 1 p.m., ABC
GAME 5  at CHI, Tue. May 8, If Necessary
GAME 5  at PHI, Thu. May 10, If Necessary
GAME 7  at CHI, Sat. May 12 If Necessary

The 76ers will be hoping for a low-scoring series, as they are limited offensively while ranking among the best in the league defensively. The Bulls were the most resilient team in the league, earning the top seed overall despite persistent injuries to their three starters on the wing -- reigning MVP Derrick Rose, All-Star Luol Deng and former All-Star and champion, Richard Hamilton. The anemic Sixers backed into the playoffs after leading the Atlantic Division for much of the season. They'll hope to come up with easy scores in transition, but the defensively focused Bulls are likely to prevent that from happening.

KEY MATCHUP

Andre Iguodala vs. Luol Deng. The versatile Iguodala is Philadelphia's best player. His selflessness and talent for shutting down a variety of opponents defines this team that lacks a prolific superstar yet wins by sharing the ball and defending as a team. In order to give Philly any hope of a huge upset, Iguodala must not only limit Deng's offense but also provide scoring and playmaking in the half court. But it won't be easy: Deng is an excellent defender who is also a threat to score from the seams of the Bulls' offense. If he controls this matchup, then the Sixers won't have any hope.

X-FACTORS

Bulls: Derrick Rose. The injured 2011 MVP missed 27 games because of a variety of injuries, but his team is capable of winning this series even if he doesn't play a minute. The Bulls' goal, however, is to triumph in June, and they'll have no hope of extending their season past the conference finals unless Rose is playing big minutes at a consistently high level. They need to use this series to integrate him into the team and develop some momentum and confidence with him as their leader to carry them through the latter rounds.

Sixers: Lou Williams. The 6-foot-2 combo guard comes off the bench as Philadelphia's go-to scorer. He'll need to score prolifically to provide the Sixers with enough points to challenge Chicago. Along the way, the Sixers will have to play exceptional defense that creates open-floor opportunities and early offense, and Williams must show leadership by knocking down threes and attacking the basket whenever he can -- because there won't be many openings against the Bulls' defense.

BOTTOM LINE

The Bulls have been too focused all season to lose in the opening round to an underdog that hasn't seemed worthy of the playoffs in recent weeks. If the Sixers turn this meeting into a dramatic series, it will expose a vulnerability within the Bulls that will create confidence among their rival title contenders in the East. But don't expect that to happen. Bulls in five.

 
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