(SportsNetwork.com) - The Chicago Bulls begin another playoff run without Derrick Rose on Sunday night when they welcome the Washington Wizards to the United Center.
Chicago is in the postseason for a sixth straight year and for the second time without Rose because of lingering knee issues. The Bulls got by without Rose in the first round last season, using a full seven-game series to dispose of the Brooklyn Nets, but the eventual two-time NBA champion Miami Heat bounced the Bulls in five games in the East semifinals.
Now the Bulls are taking on a young and inexperienced Wizards team that won two of three meetings against them in the regular season. The Wizards have to play the first two games in the Windy City, where they are just 5-15 in the last 20 games.
"The Wizards are a tough team, tough, tough team," said Chicago sixth man Taj Gibson. "They gave us so many problems in the regular season; great shooters. They got some great bigs in Nene and (Marcin) Gortat. John Wall is playing some phenomenal basketball. Bradley Beal is playing great basketball, too. Their bench is loaded up. It's going to be tough."
When Rose went down early this season, the Bulls became Joakim Noah's team, although defense is still their calling card. Chicago finished tops in the NBA in opponents' scoring (93.7 ppg) and second in opponents' shooting percentage (43.2). The Bulls have ranked no lower than third in opponents' scoring in head coach Tom Thibodeau's four seasons at the helm.
Noah is headed toward a possible Defensive Player of the Year award, but his offensive game is what carried the Bulls. He averaged 12.6 points and led the Bulls with 11.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Noah played an integral part for Chicago's top defense, but also averaged a career-high 5.4 assists.
Chicago won an Eastern Conference-best 36 games since Jan. 1 and won seven in a row before closing out the season with two losses in three tries.
Washington is wet behind the ears when it comes to recent postseason appearances. It has returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08, when it lost in six games to a young LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Wizards are facing the Bulls for the third time in the postseason, as they were swept 3-0 back in the first round of the 1997 playoffs and won a best-of- seven series 4-2 in 2005.
"I feel like we like our chances against anybody if we play the right way," said Wall, who averaged 20.7 points, 8.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds in three games versus the Bulls this season. "We just have to go out there and play the way we know how to play, and play the defense we're capable of playing. We're here and we're focused and will try to leave a statement and see where it takes us."
The Wizards received a big boost with the return of veteran big man, Nene. He missed a ton of time in the middle of the season, but came back for four games at the end. He averaged 14.3 points and should come in handy against the bruising frontline of Chicago.
Washington took advantage of a weaker Eastern Conference to reach the playoffs and went 19-11 after the break. The Wizards closed the regular season with four straight wins and eight in the last 11 games.