By Dan Bernstein- Senior Columnist

(CBS) I’ll forgive the “playoff atmosphere” comments about the Bulls and Knicks Sunday.

Though the term is more often employed to lend size and gravitas to yet another mundane NBA affair, I have to say the broadcasters were onto something: a gorgeous early afternoon in Chicago, sunny and warm, and we’re gathered with family and friends inside, around the television.

Some of us digesting matzah, some of us peeking at the ham in the oven, and everybody in familiar postseason positions for a matinee. Atmosphere is local.

The return of Derrick Rose, the game’s wild emotional swings, and a star turn by Carmelo Anthony set to the classical score of the MSG organ – its churchlike thrum punctuating the action in a basketball shrine – made for something other than one of this year’s typically-uninspiring nights.

If the standings hold, here’s your first-round matchup, fans.

The Bulls are better, make no mistake. Derrick Rose had a brutal game, missing shots and failing to protect the ball in his return to action, and we have to give him the benefit of the doubt as he continues to recover, even as some of us fear setbacks or something less than full explosiveness and ability from here on in.

No need to be too concerned about the outcome, really, since one made free-throw at the end of regulation flips the script. What is interesting, though, is how a coaching change and injuries brought out aspects of the Knicks that change the way the Bulls may perceive them as an opponent.

Mike Woodson believes in defense and toughness, clearly. This team is playing a far more physical game on both ends of the floor, as evidenced by an inspired Tyson Chandler destroying a wilting Joakim Noah. If he plays like that, he’s a handful – his hard screens taking a toll, and swatted back-taps providing key second-chances.

Iman Shumpert is a better player than Jeremy Lin, and his length and athleticism mean he can spend time guarding Rose. I’ll take Imania over Linsanity. JR Smith was his same, silly self, taking long shots with no regard to score or situation, but he won’t be 2-for-11 with those same looks most nights.

With Amare Stoudamire still out, there was no denying Anthony the multiple isolations on which he thrives. Despite the avalanche of criticism he’s received this year, he remains a deadly, creative, powerful scorer. The playoffs are about stars, and he’s a star. There’s no rest for an already-tired Luol Deng in a series guarding this guy.

Here was a perfect time for a purportedly-healthy Rip Hamilton to be that second scoring option to take the pressure off Rose, but that’s just not happening, with his game too scheme-specific to function properly with Rose in need situations. Hamilton is actually a primary scorer, requiring single-double sets and baseline-chases, with Rose trying to get him the ball. He provides little chance to break from the 1-4 arrangements and high screen-rolls that make up the sum total of late-game Bulls offense.

Kyle Korver can’t get his own shot, and has to be shuttled in and out for Ronnie Brewer in offense/defense substitutions, as Carlos Boozer must with Taj Gibson. Tom Thibodeau is still mixing and matching parts around Rose, trying to find something else that works. And as long as Noah is on the floor – and especially when he is the screener – Rose can expect to be guarded by Noah’s man as well.

These teams meet again Tuesday, and we’ll get another look at what could be some meaty stuff in three weeks or so. David Stern can only dream of a first-round series between such strong brands in huge markets.

On a weekend of traditional religious feasts, it was a game that actually gave us something to chew on.

bernstein 90x130 Bernstein: Bulls Knicks Playoff Matchup Could Be Fun

Dan Bernstein

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 columns here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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