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No. 4 Brooklyn Nets vs. No. 5 Chicago Bulls

Series Price: Brooklyn -155, Chicago +135

Series Format: Brooklyn, 2-2-1-1-1

Game 1 - Saturday, April 20 (8:00 PM EST, ESPN)
Game 2 - Monday, April 22 (8:00 PM EST, TNT)
Game 3 - Thursday, April 25 (8:30 PM EST, NBA TV)
Game 4 - Saturday, April 27 (2:00 PM EST, TNT)
Game 5* - Monday, April 29 (TBD)
Game 6* - Thursday, May 2 (TBD)
Game 7* - Saturday, May 4 (TBD)

Brooklyn Nets 49-33 39-40-3 26-15 23-18 41-40-1 96.9 95.1
Chicago Bulls 45-37 36-46 24-17 21-20 37-44-1 93.2 92.9
2012-13 Head to Head Meetings
Date Results Total
04/04/13 Chicago 92 (+5.5) @ Brooklyn 90 UNDER 188.5
03/02/13 Brooklyn 85 @ Chicago 96 (-4.5) OVER 177.5
02/01/13 Chicago 89 @ Brooklyn 93 (-5) OVER 180.5
12/15/12 Brooklyn 82 @ Chicago 83 (-4.5) OVER 184

Skinny: Deron Williams' ankles throbbed, compromising their owner 's game, forcing him to be rightfully bypassed for the All-Star game in the same season where he became the face of Brooklyn's new franchise. He utilized the break to get right, grab another of cortisone shots and plasma therapy treatment. Since, he's been rejuvenated, averaging 22.9 points and reminding everyone why the Nets broke the bank to keep him from joining the Mavericks.

Now if we could only see the point guard who precociously took Utah to the 2007 Western Conference finals in his first postseason face off against the youngest MVP in NBA history, we'd really have something in this Nets-Bulls pairing.

Derrick Rose, however, remains a no-show despite having been cleared to return. He's practiced for weeks, can finally dunk off his left leg but still doesn't feel comfortable enough to return. Rose hasn't ruled it out, even though it seems far-fetched. Teammates have expressed nothing but support and would welcome him back in whatever role Tom Thibodeau carves out, but his availability will be a major question mark throughout the next few weeks. While the Bulls appear patient, fans in Rose's hometown of Chicago are growing antsy. An early deficit might elicit louder groans, especially since the Bulls have been held together by scotch tape down the stretch.

Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis) and Taj Gibson (knee) enter the postseason at less than 100 percent, so if Rose is to join the party, he's more liable to do it early as a show of solidarity.

Brooklyn will be counting on riding the momentum of bringing the playoffs to Barclays Center and snapping a five-year drought between postseason appearances to surge ahead early. That task would be made easier if Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace return to form, as the Nets had both sit for the better part of the last month.

Johnson has been banged up since the All-Star break, but offered a pair of promising performances before winding down. Wallace has admitted he's lost confidence in his offense and has cracked double-figures in scoring just three times in his last 27 games. With Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler among the top defensive wing combos taking the floor this weekend, Chicago has every reason to believe they can muck things up as it likes to and steal homecourt early.

Just think, if the Bulls get it done, they can buy Rose more time.

Head-to-Head Matchups: Williams and Brook Lopez combined for 58 points in the April 4 meeting, a game memorable for an intense fourth quarter that belied what you would've expected from beat-up second-place teams that had little hope of winning their division. Despite the absence of Noah and Gibson, the Bulls rallied from a 16-point first-half deficit behind big shots from Nate Robinson and 29 points and 18 rebounds from Carlos Boozer, holding on when a wide open Lopez jumper rimmed out at the buzzer.

Williams helped foul out Kirk Hinrich and had Robinson on the brink of disqualification en route to a 30-point night, so Thibodeau has undoubtedly had a few nights of light sleep hoping to devise ways to slow him down. Williams averaged 19.8 points and 6.8 assists in four games against Chicago. Lopez is another major threat, having averaged a team-high 22 points on 53 percent shooting over the four regular-season meetings, but the Bulls have to be encouraged by Noah averaging 16 points, 10 rebounds in five assists in two games he participated in, both victories.There is uncertainty over how long he'll be able to go due to aforementioned recurring foot pain, but his history suggests that if he's able to walk, he'll be out there.

Due to the uncertainty regarding the health of so many key figures, x-factors could play a major role on both sides. Robinson and Butler were terrific down the stretch, while Mohammed is also likely to be a factor inside for the Bulls. Marco Belinelli and Rip Hamilton will be vying for time behind Butler at the two. Standout rebounder Reggie Evans, Kris Humphries, C.J. Watson, Marshon Brooks and Keith Bogans will all be counted on heavily by Brooklyn coach P.J. Carlesimo and be especially vital if Johnson and Wallace fail to respond.

Betting Notes: Oddsmakers have clung tightly to a five-point margin in every encounter, favoring the home team each time. Therefore it should be no surprise the Nets opened as a 4.5-to-5-point favorite. The last three games resulted in totals that reached 182, 181 and 182, so it's clear that is where the Game 1 number was pulled from. The Bulls have won seven of the last 10 meetings between the teams.

Series Outlook: Because of the homecourt edge and the uncertainty surrounding Noah and Rose, the Nets are in the driver's seat to reach the Eastern Conference semis. Still, Chicago won't be lacking for confidence, having clawed their way to this position despite being short-handed the last few months. Odds are good that this will be a long series, creating a huge window for the speculation over Rose's potential return to continue. It may ultimately come down to whether Williams is unchallenged as the premier catalyst in the series, in which case Brooklyn should advance in seven.

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