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After four games, the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls are dead even at two games apiece, and the Eastern Conference Semifinals have essentially become a best of three series. The first of those three game is played in the Windy City on Tuesday night, as Atlanta tries to carry the momentum from its Game 4 triumph back to Chicago for Game 5.
NBA Playoffs Preview: Atlanta Hawks @ Chicago Bulls Game 5
Date: Tuesday, May 10th, 8:00 ET
Location: United Center, Chicago, IL
Game Line: Chicago -8.5
Hawks Notes: It really doesn’t feel like the Hawks are the better team in this series, but they are finding a way to hang in there even though they are playing without their star point guard and the man that they mortgaged a ton of players for to get at the trade deadline in Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich has been out of the first four games of this series with a hamstring injury, and it is anyone’s guess as to when he is going to be available to return to the lineup. In fairness, in his place, Jeff Teague, a man that was used for just a grand total of about 1,700 minutes in his first two years in the league is being called upon to play 40+ minutes per night. Heck, he was only on the court for a total of nine minutes against the Orlando Magic! However, he is hanging in there and has averaged 16.0 points per game, and he only has a total of five turnovers to his credit at this point in the playoffs. The key for Atlanta this whole season, and really for a ton of years though, has been getting off to a great start. We’ve seen this time and time again. When the Hawks get down, they are often held down for the rest of the game, series, or even season. Case in point: Game 1 against the Magic, they jumped out of the blocks to the early lead, and they never looked back. Games 3, 4, and 6, same situation. The one time that Orlando had the quick start, the Hawks were buried by 25 points at the Amway Center in a game in which they gave up in. The Bulls have two quick starts in this series, and they have two wins to show for it. Atlanta needs to make sure that it gets off to a hot start to be able to have any chance of winning this game at the United Center.
Bulls Notes: The reason that the Bulls are so scary right now for the rest of this series is that they just have to hold serve at home to be able to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Beating Chicago this year at the United Center has been a heck of a task for any team to undertake, as it went 36-5 in the regular season. However, the Hawks proved that the task is doable, as they did win Game 1 relatively comfortably on the road, and Head Coach Tom Thibodeau, the league’s Coach of the Year, is going to be warning his team of just how dangerous this spot really is to be in. The truth of the matter though, is that the Bulls really should have the physical advantage at just about every spot on the floor against their adversaries in this one. However, the way that Derrick Rose is playing right now, it almost seems as though the other four players on the court in red and white are more or less just out there instead of being involved in the offense. Rose has shot the ball at least 27 times in all three games in this series, and the end result is that the rest of his teammates just aren’t getting involved. Sure, Rose has put up some great numbers, and he is proving why he is the league’s MVP, but even at 29.4 points, 7.4 assists, 4.8 boards, and 1.9 steals per game, he is going to need the help of his teammates. Joakim Noah has looked lost in the last two games of this series, scoring a grand total of just eight points in those two outings, while his mate on the inside, Carlos Boozer, is only accounting for 10.7 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in the playoffs.
The Final Word: The Bulls are still just the superior team here in this series, and they are due to flex their muscles for another romp. Chicago is the deeper team, and unless the Hawks come out of the gate with guns blazing and shots fall from all over the court, we just don’t see how they can keep up when push really comes to shove.
Free NBA Playoffs Picks: Chicago -8.5
Chicago Bulls vs. Atlanta Hawks Prediction: Chicago 97 – Atlanta 84