It's time to get things started in the Windy City.
This won't be an easy series for Atlanta's basketball team, which will likely be without point guard Kirk Hinrich for the entire series. Hinrich strained his right hamstring in Atlanta's round one series-clinching Game 6 win over the Orlando Magic on Thursday.
Second-year pro Jeff Teague will start in Game 1 and will likely draw the assignment to guard possible MVP candidate Derrick Rose.
Guarding Rose is going to be a challenge for Atlanta, which failed to contain the Chicago superstar in the three-game regular season set. The point guard averaged 25.3 points and nine assists in the matchup, which the Bulls took 2-1.
The Hawks were very, very lucky to eke out a win in the first game of the series. Atlanta rallied from a 20-plus point deficit in that one to pull off a monumental upset behind a career-high 31 points from Al Horford. But behind a vow from Rose, the No. 1 seed Bulls made short work of the Hawks in the next two games of the set, posting wins by 18 and 33 points.
Whether Chicago continues its success against the Hawks will begin and end with how well Atlanta's lineup contains Rose and the rest of the Bulls' supporting cast, which may be without Carlos Boozer to start the series. Boozer, who is suffering from a turf toe injury, did not practice the last three days. While many Bulls including Horford's former teammate Joakim Noah expect Boozer to play on Monday, no one can predict how effective he will be.
Expect big minutes from Kurt Thomas and some support from Taj Gibson if Boozer can not go.
As Chicago doesn't really have a big man in the middle, look for a different look for Atlanta in the series. The Hawks will go back to their regular or "small" lineup for the series, where Horford will guard Noah at center, Josh Smith will play the four, Marvin Williams will play the three and Joe Johnson will line up with Teague at guard.
That means we'll be seeing less of Jason Collins in this series. But expect to see some Zaza Pachulia off the bench to bring some energy to the team in spurts. Also expect to see Damien Wilkins used in a similar role to Zaza and Collins in Atlanta's round one matchup against the Magic. Wilkins can play defense and may be brought in to pester and annoy Rose from time-to-time in the game.
While virtually all of the so-called experts are calling for the Bulls to handily win this series in five or six games, this is a winnable series for a Hawks team that is amongst the league's best when they have the heart and desire to dig down deep and play good basketball.
As always with this team, you will be able to tell quickly what Atlanta team is going to show up. The good team penetrates inside and creates opportunities from that penetration. The bad Atlanta team has guys like Smith taking ill-advised 20-foot jumpers.
If the good team shows up, Atlanta can eke out a win against a young Bulls team that hasn't gone this deep into the postseason yet.