I don’t need the Orlando-Atlanta series to go seven games so the winner supposedly will be too tired to challenge the Bulls. No, I just need Atlanta to win so Dwight Howard doesn’t show up and play ever dirtier on Derrick Rose than Indiana goof Jeff Foster did.
Scout the Bulls’ potential second-round opponents any way you want, but the top priority is keeping Rose healthy, as we’ve seen and had heart attacks over. That’s why you want Atlanta to win tonight or Saturday.
Listen, Howard’s the dirtiest quality player in the league, following John Stockton in that unique category that I just made up. Howard regularly pounds Rose with no regard for the ball. He just wants to pulverize Rose, and he does. Rose drives to the hoop and Howard makes like Dick Butkus. Ka-boom, Neil Funk. That’s the real ka-boom, or the new ka-boom now that Stacey King douses every three-pointer with hot sauce.
(Tangent: The Bulls sell everything these days, so I can’t believe they haven’t cut a deal where King says, “Gimme the Cholula.’’)
Anyway, Howard just wants to ragdoll Rose the way the Pacers’ thugs did. Difference is, Howard sells it better. He also gets away with more because he’s a three-time Dirty Player of the Year, er, Defensive Player of the Year.
Look, both Orlando and Atlanta present problems for the Bulls. Orlando has the best player in that series, but the Bulls seemed happy to let Howard get his 40 while shutting down the Magic’s deadly three-point arsenal.
Atlanta, meanwhile, is a more talented version of the Pacers --- a long team, a dangerous big man and a fierce perimeter defender. The Hawks’ length has always bothered the Bulls the way the Pacers’ length did in the first round. Long-armed defenders get in passing lanes and poke at the dribble to create turnovers. It took the Bulls three games -- three wasted first halves -- to figure it out. Tell me the Bulls will be smarter in the next round, no matter the opponent.
But the opponent had better be the Hawks, let me tell you. Al Horford will score, sure, but he doesn’t bring the criminal element of Howard, who, I believe, was just voted Most Likely to Permanently Maim Someone.