Published November 20, 2014
The reigning MVP and team with the best record in the NBA get the honor of opening the NBA playoffs when Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls host the Philadelphia 76ers.
Rose missed 27 games during the 2011-12 campaign with a myriad of injuries but still helped the Bulls to the NBA's best overall record for a second straight season, this time with a 50-16 mark.
Chicago, which lost to the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals in 2011, will face a Sixers team that won four of its final five games for the No. 8 seed. Philadelphia, however, has lost its last five playoff series, dropped five straight postseason games on the road and hasn't advanced past the first round since 2003.
Yet, since Philadelphia matched up so poorly against the Miami Heat, it looked as if the team was hoping to face the top-seeded Bulls in the East quarterfinals, the same team that finished four games above the Heat in the standings and are perhaps the deepest club in the NBA.
"What I said was looking back at the past two years matching up against teams, we had a tougher time against the Heat," Sixers second-year swingman Evan Turner said. "That's all I said. If I had to choose, we match up better against the Bulls."
That might be true but it's probably the difference between death by hanging or firing squad.
Philadelphia opens the East quarters in the Second City on Saturday, just two days after sitting its top five scorers in a season-ending loss at Detroit, a setback that guaranteed the team would avoid LeBron and Company.
The Bulls, meanwhile, had the best record in the East for the second consecutive season and edged the San Antonio Spurs for the top spot in the NBA by winning the tiebreaker. The Sixers, however, were 1-2 against Chicago and 0-4 versus Miami.
Turner, a Chicago native, offered Philadelphia's perspective in The Delaware County Daily Times saying, "It means we're dodging the tougher team. That's what I think. I think we'll be able to compete well against Chicago, and have an opportunity to win the series."
That's probably a stretch as this set shapes up as one of the biggest mismatches in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
The Sixers plummeted down to earth after a hot start. They opened the truncated campaign with a sizzling 20-9 mark and led the Atlantic Division for quite some time. However, an 11-21 stretch over the next 32 games dropped the Sixers all the way down the East standings and had many wondering if this team would punch a ticket to the postseason.
A 4-1 season-ending road trip got Philadelphia in but it remains a team in disarray, one that may have already tuned out it's old school coach, Doug Collins.
The Bulls, meanwhile, dominated the East again in Tom Thibodeau's second year at the helm. The defensive-minded Thibodeau set the record for most wins by a first year coach in Chicago with 62 before following that up with an NBA-best 50-16 mark this season.
The Bulls' bragging rights in the East for a second straight campaign is the first time the franchise has shown such dominance since 1997-98 season, when a Michael Jordan-led group won their third straight and sixth NBA title in eight years.
This version of the Bulls has its MVP-type player in Rose looked ready to play at Friday's walkthrough and should be ready for Game 1.
"I wouldn't be in a rush to play the Bulls," TNT analyst Kenny Smith said. "Defensively, the Chicago Bulls are going to make you uncomfortable regardless if he [Derrick Rose] is playing or not."
On the injury front for Philadelphia, Turner tweaked his hamstring in the season finale but should be ready to go while Andre Iguodala is probable with a strained right hamstring.
Meanwhile, rookie big man Lavoy Allen will get the start at center in favor of veteran Spencer Hawes and fellow freshman Nik Vucevic. The Temple product started just 15 games during the regular season but offers more of a rebounding presence than Hawes, who has struggled since returning from an Achilles injury.
These two rivals have met in the East semifinals twice in back-to-back years (1990 and '91) during the Jordan-era with Chicago taking both sets 4-1.