Charlotte Bobcats' Al Jefferson, left, strips the ball from Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, April 16, 2014. The Bobcats won 91-86 in overtime. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) ORG XMIT: NCCB110
Updated: May 21, 2014 6:43AM
It’s a nice badge to carry into the playoffs: The team no one wants to play.
It even has a tinge of intimidation to it, that is, if the Bulls were actually facing a team that was susceptible to intimidation.
But they aren’t.
The Washington Wizards have little to lose, especially when all they’ve been hearing is they’re destined for elimination by next week.
“Why would they pick us?’’ Wizards center Marcin Gortat told the Washington Post on Friday when asked about all the predictions from the so-called experts favoring the Bulls. “First of all, Chicago is an experienced team. They have a lot of good players every year. The pressure is on them. I don’t understand why we should be mad. This is a good team, and we’ve just got to beat them. We’ve got to focus on our team.’’
So why are the Bulls such prohibitive favorites before Game 1 on Sunday at the United Center? After all, this is a No. 4 seed against a No. 5 seed. And, oh, by the way, a No. 5 seed that beat the Bulls in two of three regular-season meetings.
The apparent answer? Postseason experience.
The Bulls have it; the Wizards don’t.
“A lot of people are writing us off, saying we really don’t have a chance,’’ Wizards All-Star guard John Wall said. “They say we don’t have experience, they have more experience and stuff like that, but all we can worry about is the Washington Wizards and our game plan.’’
The Bulls have a game plan, too, and it doesn’t involve playing the we-have-more-experience card.
“I think they have a good mix of guys,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “When you look at Wall and [Bradley] Beal, they’re terrific. A guy like [Trevor] Ariza has been around. Nene has been around. [Andre] Miller has been in a ton of games. [Al] Harrington has been in a ton of games. So I think they have a good blend. The notion that they don’t have experience, I don’t think that’s reality.’’
Maybe not. But the reality is the Wizards have shown they can compete with elite teams during the regular season, but playoff basketball smells, tastes and plays a lot differently.
“In the playoffs, everything gets really shrunk down to how hard guys play, knowing the play calls and aggression,’’ backup big man Taj Gibson said. “It’s a lot of heart. That’s the main thing. Without those things, you’re really going to have a rough night.’’
Or, in the case of the Wizards, four rough nights over the next two weeks if the Bulls have their way.
“We feel that we have an opportunity to do something special,’’ Gibson said. “We believe in the locker room, we believe in going far, but it’ll all come down to one play at a time, really.’’