CHAUNCEY BILLUPS vs BEN GORDON
The Bulls will give Chauncey plenty of different looks (Duhon, Hinrich, etc) and must keep his open locks off the pick ‘n roll to a minimum. Some experts have talked about Hinrich as the main Billups defender, but I’m sure Captain Kirk will spend most of his time chasing Richard Hamilton thru screens and Gordon will be matched-up with the Pistons floor general and team leader. While Gordon may have the sweetest jumper in the league when he’s hot, Billups owns the nickname “Mr. Big-Shot” and thrives taking smaller guards into the post. Even though the former Huskie has greatly improved his defensive ability throughout the season, Ben can struggle when forced to defend in the post. At the offensive end, we’ll probably see RIP switch-over and try to use his length to disrupt Ben’s open looks, but in reality, if Ben’s got a rhythm there’s not much you can do to stop him. The biggest worry for Skiles is that Hamilton will definitely make him work much harder at the offensive end than Miami did, and that may caused Ben to lose focus on the defensive side. Overall, Gordon’s success at the defensive end will determine if the Bulls advance to the Conference Finals. While Chris Duhon gives Skiles some great defensive pressure off the bench, if Skiles is forced to use him more than 20 minutes per contest in Gordon’s place, the Bulls will struggle to win this series. ADVANTAGE: The better overall performance between these two may determine the series winner...and I'm thinking Baby Ben is going to stay smokin'!
RICHARD HAMILTON vs KIRK HINRICH
After drawing a match-up with Dwayne Wade in round one, it’s possible things may actually get tougher for the former Jayhawk in round 2. While D-Wade spent most of his time isolated at the top of the key against Kirk, RIP flies down the sideline and once in the half-court weaves in and out of screens looking to catch on the short-corner or free-throw line extended. After squaring to the bucket, RIP will either take a jab-step and raise-up or make a quick move into the paint for his bread n’ butter mid-range jumper. As I mentioned at nauseam this year, Hinrich doesn’t have a problem guarding super-quick swingmen if he’s not in foul trouble. If we see Kirk whining early and often in the 1st quarter, the Bulls will have to use Thabo Sefolosha on RIP, and while his length and overall defense ability is solid, what the Bulls lose in leadership at the offensive end will be too great. Hinrich had an up and down shooting performance against Miami, but he still managed to hit plenty of big shots or find the open shooters. ADVANTAGE: The edge definitely goes to RIP, but Hinrich is not as far behind as people think.
TAYSHAUN PRINCE vs LUOL DENG
This is a match-up the Bulls should be able to exploit. I’m a huge Prince fan and love his basketball IQ, but Deng is just as smart and has another gear to go with a dominating extended mid-range game. While Luol shot almost 60% against Miami as the series’s leading scorer and was disciplined enough to stay away from the 3-point line altogether, his cat-quick anticipation on the defensive end and ability to simply out slash his opponents on O had to be the most impressive part of his game. As for Prince, unless they leave him wide open to cast from the corners, I do not think he has the speed to put the ball on the floor to get past Deng or will have the energy to post-up after chasing him all over the hardwood. ADVANTAGE: ‘Cool’ Luol Deng has the upper hand, but needs to out-perform Prince more the RIP does to Kirk
C. WEBBER/A. MCDYESS VS P.J. BROWN/ NOCIONI
I have heard plenty of NBA aficionados state that Nocioni might not be as much of a factor in this series because he’ll have trouble with C-Webb on the block. While that might be true in a methodical half-court battle, the Bulls learned against Miami that their aggressive style could cause twice as much trouble for the opponent. My guess is Webber is not looking forward to banging with Noce or P.J. and I wouldn’t be surprised if we end-up seeing more Antonio McDyess. In all honesty, do you think Coach Flip Saunders or GM Joe Dumars are looking forward to watching those two defending the perimeter and chasing Noce on the fastbreak…I don’t think so. As for rebounding, the Bulls also seem to play bigger than their opponents since everybody on the court can rebound, and they even have Tyrus Thomas in their back-pocket for an emergency. ADVANTAGE: Once again, the Bulls will advance to the Conferemce finals if they can control the frontcourt spot alongside Big Ben.
THE BATTLE OF THE WALLACE (Sheed vs Big Ben)
While these two have complete opposite games, their passion and success can set the tone on a moments notice. While Rasheed’s ability to stretch the floor and take Ben away from the bucket will cause some interior problems for the Bulls, he’s really the only Piston that takes a few questionable shots each night. If he’s not lighting-it up from downtown, I think Ben will more than make up for it on the glass and on defense. The Afro-ed Wonder played his best basketball of the season against Miami and you know he’ll be even more hyped for his return to the Motor City. If this turns into an emotional battle between the two, I’ll take my chances with Ben Wallace’s temperment every time. ADVANTAGE: With Rasheed always in foul-trouble, it’s hard to give him an advantage when Ben will probably average 10 more minutes per contest.
PREDICTION: The Bulls have made believers out of me and I am confident the Pistons will struggle to keep up with the disciplined madness that has manifested over the past few weeks…BULLS IN SIX