The Bulls rode into the playoffs as the “dark horse” of the East, ending the regular season on a 9-game winning streak to slip past Boston as the number 1 seed. The Hawks limped their way into the playoffs, putting a 6-game losing streak behind them to defeat the Magic in 6 games. The Bulls are by far the favorite– once again, not one of ESPN’s experts has a Hawks logo next to his name in Round 2 picks. But this was the case in the Magic-Hawks series as well.
Both teams are hobbling into the conference semifinals with a number of significant injuries. Bulls point guard and MVP candidate Derrick Rose suffered an ankle sprain against the Pacers in Game 4, and power forward Carlos Boozer is listed as day-to-day with a toe injury. Boozer is questionable for tonight’s match-up against the Hawks, but Rose will definitely be in the lineup. Still, the ankle injury may slow him down a bit, and the Hawks will take anything they can get to help contain Rose, particularly with starting point and what would have been the Hawks’ primary defender against Rose, Kirk Hinrich, out. Hinrich strained his hamstring late in Game 6 against the Magic and is likely out for the entire series against his former team.
The loss of Hinrich has left a lot of question marks for coach Larry Drew as he considers his lineup for tonight. As late as last night, Drew said he was still unsure of whom he would use to replace Hinrich. Shocker. Atlanta has used 17 different starting lineups this season and seven of its players have started at least 22 games. But as much inconsistency and confusion as this has resulted in at times, perhaps being used to such spur-of-the-moment and on-the-fly decisions will work in the Hawks’ favor this time around, as a number of players will need to step up and make adjustments in Hinrich’s absence.
It will be interesting to see which team overcomes its injuries and comes out on top in Game 1. Coverage starts at 8 PM EST on TNT!