The Great Equalizer

One more win for the Philadephia 76ers and another one of those 8th seed first round upsets are going to happen.

Up 3-1 in their best-of-seven series against the Chicago Bulls, Philly will look to complete the “upset” Wednesday morning Manila time in a game which will take place in the Windy City.

Note the presence of quotation marks. “Upset”.

The 8th-beats-1st has happened only four times in the history of NBA playoff basketball: in 1994 (Denver beat Seattle), 1999 (New  York beat Miami), 2007 (Golden State beat Dallas), and 2011 (Memphis beat San Antonio).

In all these cases, the winners simply played better basketball than their opponents. The 2007 Golden State  Warriors, for example, had Don Nelson as their coach. Nelson manned Dallas’ sidelines for many years, also coaching the Mavs’ current main man Dirk Nowitzki. The  Warriors used this to their advantage. Nelson’s knowledge of the Maverick team made him craft schemes to take Dallas out of the game, and eventually, out of the playoffs.

The other three series have pretty much the same story. Better execution, better  plays, an overall better game.

So what makes this year’s looming “upset” any different? Even just by looking at the rosters, one can tell the story of the series: it’s a healthy  Philadelphia team with all key players present versus a Chicago team with two starters — Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah — out for the series to become the team’s highest paid cheerleaders.

These injuries tell half the story. Without these two starters, the Bulls’ rotation becomes derailed. And without Rose, their point guard, things become even tougher. A team’s point guard is like a football team’s quarterback. He directs the offense and gets everyone involved. While the Bulls have capable backups CJ Watson and John  Lucas, they can’t provide the athletic ability Derrick Rose has. They can’t replace the free throw opportunities Rose can get.

Noah’s defensive abilities, as well as his rebounding, will be missed. Omer Asik, who will take his place in the starting line up, cannot provide the numbers Noah regularly puts up. With his shot-blocking ability, Noah’s mere presence inside is enough to alter shots. I’m not so sure if Asik can be that same force inside.

With two big injuries on their side, plus a disrupted rotation, the Bulls are nowhere near the 50-16 team we saw in the regular season. They look more like a middle-of-the-pack average playoff team than one of two teams favored to win the East. It even seems like Philly is the higher seed in this matchup.

Injuries are the greatest equalizers in sports, as is evident in this Bulls-Sixers series. And if ever Philadelphia pulls of the win, it’s an “upset” only by definition, because upsets can’t happen when the team expected to win actually wins.

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It’s been a while since I wrote a sports-related piece. And damn, it feels good to write something like this again.

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