Four writers answer three burning questions on Game 6 between the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls.
1. Which team faces more pressure tonight: The Bulls to close out the series at home or the Nets to avoid elimination?
- Justin DeFeo: The Nets. This doesn’t mean that the Bulls face no pressure, and yes, I believe it’s in Chicago’s best interest to finish the Nets off tonight, as the pendulum of the series would swing heavily back in favor of the Nets if they force a game seven in Brooklyn. That being said, there is nothing more pressure-packed than facing the end of your season, especially as the favored team which is what the Nets face tonight.
- Max Weisberg: Tonight, the Nets are the team that face the most pressure. If they lose, they’re done. This alone is not why Brooklyn faces the most pressure tonight: the Bulls are missing their two best point guards, have a hobbled Joakim Noah, and can quite possibly be missing forwards Luol Deng and Taj Gibson due to illness. The Nets are healthier and more talented than Chicago — the pressure is on them.
- Benjamin Nadeau: Chicago faces more pressure to close out the series at home. Chicago’s injury report is mounting, and it’s tough to not like the Nets’ chances if they can return to Brooklyn for Game 7. If the Bulls fall, they’ll be riding a two-game losing streak, and the injuries still won’t be any easier to deal with. Barclays has proven that it can rock, and a Game 7 there would be what everyone wanted at the beginning of this season. The pressure of going into a rowdy Brooklyn arena for Game 7 and every single one of their impact players ailing or out? That’s a lot on Chicago’s back tonight.
- John Hood: Clearly it is for the Nets to avoid elimination. Mikhail Prokhorov let the NBA world know that anything less than the Conference Finals is a failure. For the Nets to bow out in the first round after a great season would leave a sour taste on the season as a whole.
2. The Nest best five-man unit tonight will feature Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and…..?
- Justin DeFeo: Take your pick. Whoever else is playing the best is a copout, but here’s why I believe that’s how this shakes out. The numbers may support an Andray Blatche/Lopez tandem in the fourth quarter, but I’ve seen Blatche play like a space cadet at times, especially on the defensive end. Gerald Wallace has played brilliant games and timid games all within this series so far. C.J. Watson’s shooting has been erratic. Who knows what the Nets are getting from Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks or Jerry Stackhouse from game to game. It’s amazing that at this juncture of the season a set rotation has still not been fortified, but that’s the reality of the situation and I don’t see it changing tonight.
- Max Weisberg: The best 5-man unit tonight will feature Williams, Johnson, Wallace, Blatche and Lopez. We all know what the Blatche-Lopez combo has done in this series — dominate. When on the floor together in this series, the Nets have outscored the Bulls by 38 points and have compiled a NetRtg of just over +54. Another added value the “twin tower” lineup brings to the table? It makes Carlos Boozer actually defend — something he hasn’t been very good at throughout his career. As for Wallace, it’s very important that he is able to get going: his defense and hustle always gives the Nets a nice boost and when he can score some points, it makes Brooklyn that much tougher to handle.
- Benjamin Nadeau: It’s got to be Andray Blatche and Gerald Wallace. Even if Blatche isn’t 100%, as he’s noted, he’s clearly the more effective power forward for Brooklyn right now. Neither Reggie nor Andray can stop Boozer very well, so you might as well play the best offensive player of the two, right? The reason why Evans plays so much is for his rebounding and hustle in contrast to Brook, but hasn’t Lopez (averaging 8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks) shown that Brooklyn doesn’t need to play Reggie alongside him this series?
As for Crash, the Nets live and die with him. In Game 1, Wallace scored 14 points, showed some range, hustle and heart — and the Nets rolled. Then Wallace had his abysmal games two and three and, unsurprisingly, the Nets lost. In Game five, Crash showed out again, hitting some huge threes and stealing the pass around mid court late in the 4th to effectively end the game. When Wallace struggles, the Bulls sag off of him, deciding to trap Lopez and Williams with double teams. If Wallace is on and playing at a high level, the Nets are a far more lethal team because the Bulls must respect him. It all just depends on which Gerald Wallace shows up tonight in Chicago.
- John Hood: Andray Blatche and C.J. Watson. According to NBA.com/stats, the Nets have a +5.4 net rating in the postseason when the lineup consists of the Nets big three, Blatche and Wastson.
3. Will Barclays Center host another playoff game this year?
- Justin DeFeo: Cautiously, yes. Games 3 and 4 in Chicago were excruciatingly close, even with the Nets playing poorly in both. Now the Nets are facing an even more banged-up Bulls team and have perhaps found some cracks in the hardened Bulls defense. I’m by no means expecting a Nets win tonight, but have faith and confidence that they’re the better team.
- Max Weisberg: We know the Bulls are very good at shaking off injuries. We’ve seen in the past how they’re defensive schemes alone can win games regardless of who is on the floor. The fact that they’re playing at home in front if the raucous Chicago fans doesn’t make things easier for Brooklyn. Do I think we’ll see a game seven though? Yes, and for one sole reason: the absence of Kirk Hinrich. With Hinrich on the floor in this series, the Bulls DefRtg is 97.5. With him off the floor? It increases to 118.
- Benjamin Nadeau: Yes. Brooklyn played incredibly confident in Game 5. Injuries have only gotten worse on Chicago’s side. If Nate “Black Magic” Robinson has to play and sustain his insanity over another 40 minute game, I don’t see Chicago winning. Losing Hinrich makes a world of difference defending Williams, and without him, it forces Robinson into the spotlight for the entire game.
The recent injury report places Deng and Gibson as “sick” too. Clearly, they’re both going to play in this crucial game — but you have to wonder how strong they will be. If those two aren’t 100% as well, this might just be the most injured team of all time. Does Chicago have the plague? They get weaker by the day, which is only good news for Brooklyn.
With Joe Johnson struggling still, I expect to see MarShon Brooks tonight in a big way. He’ll provide the extra push for the Nets and they’ll force a Game 7. Book it.
- John Hood: Barclays Center will host another playoff game. The Nets haven’t won on the road this series and yet they had their best record ever on the road in franchise history during the regular season. With Hinrich out, the Bulls cannot put out their best lineup to combat the Nets tonight. Meanwhile, the flu bug is ravaging two of the Bulls stars inDeng and Gibson.