By Dan Bernstein–
CHICAGO (WSCR) — If these games against the Pacers seem closer than they should be, that’s because they are.
Our memories of the Bulls as the #1 seed in the Eastern conference may be hazy, since we have to go back to the five times they earned that position during the six-title run that began in 1990-91 and ended in 1997-98.
So we compared this Indiana team to other opponents and results from the Bulls’ other 1-vs.-8 matchups, and found nothing to alleviate any discomfort caused by watching a 62-win team have to run its motor at high RPMs to survive two games at home, needing more clutch play from Derrick Rose, Kyle Korver and others even after the visitors lost their starting point guard to an ankle injury.
First, the Pacers’ 37 wins are fewer than those of any eight-seed faced by a Michael-Jordan-era title team, so it’s not like these struggles can be explained by a tougher-than usual opponent in that slot, even if they finished 20-18 after Frank Vogel took over as coach and sped up their game.
(In case you’re curious, of the six years involved, only 1992-93 saw a team finish ahead of the Bulls in the conference – the Knicks had 60 wins that year to the Bulls’ 57)
The ’91-’92 Miami Heat won 38 games, and the ’90-’91 Knicks won 39. First-round foes in the second group of titles – Miami, Washington and New Jersey – posted respective win totals of 42, 44 and 43.
These series were all best of five, and each one was a sweep. Of the fifteen total games, the Bulls won nine of them by more than ten points, seven by fifteen or more, four by at least 20, two by 30 or more, and one by 41.
Second, the average margin of victory in the current series, 5.5, is so far the lowest of any first round against an eight-seed. The ’90-’91 Knicks were dispatched by an average of 20, and the Heat the next year by 18. The 72-win Bulls blew past the Heat in ’95-’96 by an average of 23. In ’97-’98, the Nets were 7.7 points behind.
The next-closest anyone has played a top-seed Bulls team were the mostly unmemorable ’96-’97 Washington Bullets (those of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Rod Strickland…and Gheorghe Muresan) who lost the three games by 12, 5 and 1 – an average of 5.7.
And this is before hitting the road for the games Thursday and Saturday at Conseco Fieldhouse.
The meaning of any of this is debatable, of course, since these Bulls have played sluggishly against lesser teams all year, and sharpened their play when in against tougher competition. Also, their status as top dog in the conference does not seem as commanding as it did during the glory years. They earned it, no doubt, but it was less a tear through the schedule than a dutiful stacking of wins that required the kind of all-out effort from their full roster that we’ve seen so far in the playoffs.
It’s all new, and it’s unfamiliar. This is the first-ever top-seeded Bulls team to compete in a best-of-seven first round series at all, and the NBA has changed since the Bulls were last in this spot. Different rules and trends, and players who are bigger, longer and faster.
But if it seems strange to you that games this early on in the playoffs have been so difficult for a team supposed to be the best in its conference, there’s good reason.
It’s something we really have not experienced before.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s blogs here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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