Bulls-Hawks Game Six

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

CHICAGO ADVANCES TO EASTERN FINALS WITH GAME SIX VICTORY TONIGHT

It hasn't been pretty by any means. And, a victory tonight is far from a sure thing given what happened last time on this floor. But, the Chicago Bulls are finally on the precipice of the Eastern Conference Finals. They're small favorites tonight on the road in Atlanta, knowing that a much anticipated showdown awaits them if they can take care of business.

Let's run through the numbers and see what might be in store for tonight and in the next round for the Chicago Bulls.

GAME SIX: CHICAGO at ATLANTA
Chicago leads 3-2
Vegas Line: Chicago by 3.5, total of 179

This is basically the same line as Game Four on this court. Same team side number, with a half point difference in the total. The Vegas spreads haven't mattered at all yet, because the victors have won by margins of 8, 13, 17, 12, and 12. The eight came from a road underdog...so reality hasn't been within a bucket of expectations yet. There hasn't been much rhyme or reason to the totals either. Many playoff series seen a downward trend to scoring because defense tightens and the refs call fewer free throws. The refs have mostly been pretty quiet in this series. The teams either make their shots or they don't.

GAME FIVE STATS
CHICAGO 95, ATLANTA 83

Shooting Percentage: Atlanta 48%, Chicago 49%
Three-Pointers: Atlanta 1/12, Chicago 4/14
Free Throws: Atlanta 14/17, Chicago 21/28
Rebounds: Atlanta 33, Chicago 37
Turnovers: Atlanta 10, Chicago 9
Vegas Line: Chicago by 8.5, total of 180

Notebook: It's not being talked about much, so let's talk about it here! Chicago is doing a better job of making three-pointers, and that's provided a boost in their three victories.

5-3 in Game Two (+6 points in a 13-point win)
10-1 in Game Three (+27 points in a 17-point win)
4-1 in Game Five (+9 points in a 12-point win)

It's not by any means a tie-breaker as we saw in the Dallas/Lakers series...where two teams were close to even in many ways but great trey production decided the series. The point here is that Atlanta hasn't been able to make up for having the lesser team by draining extra bombs. That 1 of 12 performance Tuesday made a road win virtually impossible. Who's going to beat Chicago going 1 of 12 on treys?! They were a combined 4 of 19 in the other two losses, which makes them 5 of 31 in all three losses combined.

If you're the lesser team going into a series, you're probably going to need to win the trey category to compete unless you have an OUTSTANDING inside game. Memphis did beat San Antonio from inside (while doing a great job of guarding the arc and preventing Spurs treys). Atlanta made some three's in their first round upset of Orlando (6-7-6-6-4-8). The only time they didn't reach 6 was in the Game Five tank job where they saved their energy to win the series at home the next time out. Atlanta's gone 3-1-4-1 in the last four games vs. the Bulls.

Sometimes Chicago gets caught napping on inside rotations, leading to dunks or layups for opponents. But, they do a very good job of protecting against three's. You can see they're doing a much better job than Orlando did against this Hawks offense. We've mentioned often that "defense and rebounding wins championships." In the case of the Bulls, they've created a focus on denying three-pointers that adds a new wrinkle.

Do the Bulls have enough defense and rebounding to win the Eastern championship this year? Or, maybe the whole NBA? In our view, their strengths in those areas don't put them head and shoulders above the field. They put them in the conversation. Of note:

  • Chicago hasn't consistently impressed against a weak playoff schedule. Facing Indiana and Atlanta in the first two rounds is about as easy a draw as you can get once the elite teams are playing each other. We, frankly, expected better defense than we're seeing in these games.
  • Chicago isn't likely to dominate the boards against any team they face the rest of the way. They won't get dominated either. They'll probably be part of relative rebounding stalemates rather than a team that wins a championship off the glass.
  • Chicago doesn't yet have full confidence in their offense in crunch time. Some nights they do, and Derrick Rose gets some help on the offensive end. Other nights, everyone's afraid to take a shot and Rose has to try and do everything himself. He's close to having his full speed back, which will allow him to terrorize opponents. Can he beat a top opponent all by himself? No. He needs help. If that help starts showing up consistently, THEN we can talk about trophies.

There's no overwhelming favorite right now in the NBA given the lack of championship experience for the remaining teams. If everyone ends up so evenly matched that we're talking about a sequence of coin flips...then Chicago has as much chance as anyone of winning. You can't "exclude" them from the conversation by any means. Typically a #1 seed is at the head of the line. Chicago has yet to show vs. Indiana and Atlanta that they deserve that spot in conversations that include Miami, Dallas, or the eventual winner of Oklahoma City/Memphis.

We look forward to previewing those later round matchups when they arrive. But, first things first. We'll be back Thursday to discuss Game Six of Oklahoma City/Memphis and any other NBA news that's on the radar. Should Atlanta pull off the small home upset this evening, our Game Seven preview will run Sunday morning.

There's no NBA on the Saturday schedule for the second week in a row. That means we'll get to catch up with MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL in that edition of the NOTEBOOK. Soon the reduced NBA playoff schedule will allow us to go much further in depth in the bases. The first six weeks of action have been profitable for NETWORK. We look forward to discussing some of our strategies and favorite stats with you in the coming days.

Note that we have day games in the bases today, so if you want to get full value with JIM HURLEY'S basketball and baseball Thursday, you need to take care of business early! We'll be looking at St. Louis/Chicago Cubs on WGN in a 2:20 p.m. ET start for sure. And, then this weekend, the renewal of the Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees rivalry will highlight an exciting slate.

WEEKEND MLB HIGHLIGHTS
Boston at New York Yankees
LA Angels at Texas
Philadelphia at Atlanta
St. Louis at Cincinnati
San Francisco at Chicago Cubs

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The NBA championship picture is starting to take shape. WHEN CHAMPIONSHIPS ARE ON THE LINE, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

21
Aug

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