CHICAGO - It was treated as the biggest secret in all of Chicago the past couple of days by the 76ers. Whenever coach Doug Collins or any of his players were asked who was going to start Tuesday's Game 2 against the Bulls in the United Center, mouths quickly closed and lips tightened.
The changes were anticipated but not confirmed until about a half-hour before game time when the starting lineups were passed around the press room. Collins sent out Spencer Hawes at the center position for Lavoy Allen and Evan Turner lined up in the backcourt instead of Jodie Meeks.
The Turner switch was probably more expected as Meeks struggled again in Game 1 and Collins talked afterward of needing playmakers on the floor, then stating that Turner was one of the best on the team. For Hawes, the season-ending injury to Chicago point guard Derrick Rose (torn left ACL) might have lent a bigger hand to him getting the starting nod than the sprained thumb Allen suffered in Saturday's 103-91 loss.
With Rose out, the Bulls lose perhaps the best penetrator in the league. His replacement, C.J. Watson, is more of a stand-still shooter. Therefore the need for a quicker big man in the middle isn't so prominent for the Sixers. Plus, Hawes is a far more polished scorer than Allen, and Collins has repeatedly said he needs scoring from the middle.
Hawes was pretty much a nonfactor in Game 1 coming off the bench, scoring just five points and pulling in four rebounds in 15 minutes and 26 seconds of action. Collins has reiterated to Hawes, who started 29 games this season and missed 29 due to injury, that he must be more active offensively.
"[Collins] told me to be ready and be prepared," Hawes said. "I might have been a little bit passive as far as shooting in the first game, so that's just something I have to be more aggressive with."
As for facing a Bulls team that is without the NBA's reigning MVP, Hawes said: "It's a little bit easier, but at the same time they're so efficient whether he's in the lineup or not, not taking anything away from what he does, but it's kind of a different animal the way their offense is set up when he's not in the game. It's tough to stop either way. They have a lot of guys who over the course of their careers have been big-time scorers. With Rose he can make so much happen that he becomes that facilitator. They have guys who are capable of putting up the numbers themselves, and they count on that when he's not in the lineup."
Following such a condensed season featuring 66 games in 4 months, the playoffs certainly present a different schedule. After back-to-back games to end the season last Thursday, the Sixers opened the playoffs on Saturday at noon local time. But Sunday brought a day of mostly rest, with just a short on-court practice session, and Monday was mostly a film day.
"It's actually been a little bit good for us because we've been on a whirlwind finish," said Collins, whose team was playing its 11th of the past 13 games on the road Tuesday, including the last seven. "Not only was our road schedule what we played but to finish up the year with the teams that we played - San Antonio, Miami, Chicago, Indiana - then come right into this series with 1 day when we really couldn't do much. It was good to get a day off. We had a good day of preparation [Monday] and I think our guys were really focused [Tuesday]."
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau has gotten some heat from the local media for having Derrick Rose in the game so late on Saturday when the star guard suffered his torn ACL. The Bulls led by 12 when Rose came to a jump stop and suffered the injury with 1 minute, 20 seconds remaining.
Before Tuesday's game, Collins was asked a question about San Antonio's Gregg Popovich winning the Coach of the Year award but quickly diverted his answer to defend Thibodeau.
"I'm going to share something with you. Coaches never forget," he said. "Tom Thibodeau was part of a game in '04 with the Houston Rockets when Tracy McGrady scored 13 points in 35 seconds and beat the Spurs, 81-80. As a coach you never forget those things. So sometimes when you're gauging on who should be out there in the game and who shouldn't . . . Coaches know what they need to do. That's why with Thibs I think it would be very, very unfair to throw any criticism his way over Derrick Rose being hurt. Had he been hurt in the first minute of the game, nothing would have been said."