NBA playoffs: Keys to Wizards-Bulls matchup

April 19
Noah’s arc

The biggest difference between Washington’s two wins and its one loss against Chicago this season was that Nene sat out the defeat with a knee injury. Using his soft midrange touch and passing ability, Nene often set up at the elbow to ignite Washington’s offense and averaged 14.5 points and 4.5 assists against the Bulls. Without Nene in the lineup, Joakim Noah had his way, exploding for 21 points and 12 rebounds in an 18-point rout earlier this month at Verizon Center. With Nene back in the post alongside Marcin Gortat, who scored 21 points on 9-for-13 shooting when guarded by Noah, the Wizards possess the players necessary to counter the leading contender for NBA defensive player of the year.

Who controls the tempo?

Chicago has the unique distinction of allowing the fewest points in the league at 91.8 per game while scoring at an NBA-worst rate of 93.7. Meanwhile, Washington prides itself on an up-tempo attack behind speedy point guard John Wall. The Wizards shot at least 55 percent from the field and averaged 31 assists in their last two games, displaying the type of ball movement and sharpshooting that makes them one of the league’s most dangerous teams. But Chicago has the coach in Tom Thibodeau and the players in Noah, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson to potentially thwart Washington’s offense with defensive schemes that can cut off the open lanes and turn the Wizards’ fast play into forced turnovers. What’s more, the Bulls have elevated their offensive play of late, scoring more than 100 points in six of their last 10 games. The savvy of Wall and Bradley Beal will be greatly tested in their first playoff experience as they look to dictate the tempo of this series.

Three-ball, corner pocket

During the past two years, the Wizards have brought in skilled shooters to serve as targets for Wall’s knack for penetrating and passing within Washington’s offense. The result? A league-high four players with at least 100 three-pointers in Trevor Ariza, Beal, Martell Webster and even Wall, who has hit 108 three-pointers after totaling just 49 in his first three seasons. Wall especially enjoys finding his teammates in the corner, as Ariza leads the NBA with 81 threes from this spot, 51 of them assisted by Wall. Chicago’s defensive prowess helped it hold teams to 35.1 percent shooting on less than 19 three-point attempts per game. But Washington’s desire to get out in transition and shoot the long ball apparently rubbed off on the Bulls in their meetings this season. Chicago attempted an average of 22.7 three-point shots against Washington, which is nearly five more than their season-long rate of 17.8. Should the games turn into a three-point shootout, the Wizards, who rank fourth in the league with a 38 percent clip from behind the arc, hold a decided advantage.

— Brandon Parker

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