The Chicago Bulls host the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday with plenty of questions to answer before they are regarded as a legitimate championship contender.
Where: United Center, Chicago.
When: Sunday April 19, 00:00 (UK time)
Watch live: Click here to watch on BT Sport online!
Chicago have one of the strongest rosters in the NBA, but they have been hampered by injuries yet again this season which threaten to derail their championship push.
Point guard Derrick Rose has looked impressive at times, but the former MVP’s knee issues continue to haunt him as he underwent a third procedure in as many years in February before making a late return for the final five games of the regular season.
The likes of Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich have all had to deal with their own issues, but coach Tom Thibodeau should have an entire roster available for selection come Saturday night.
Jimmy Butler leads the team with an average of 20.0 points per game this season, while summer recruit Pau Gasol has been a double-double machine since arriving.
The Spaniard has certainly enjoyed a chance of scenery this year, and his experience of winning championships could become even more key down this stretch of the post-season.
Noah remains the emotional leader of the team and is expected to have his minutes limit lifted after undergoing knee surgery last summer, and his play will have a big effect on how far the Bulls go.
Meanwhile, their opposition have gone from one of the worst teams in the NBA to a playoff outfit in a year, as Jason Kidd and his young Bucks team have defied the odds and looked impressive.
Michael Carter-Williams, Giannis Antetokoumpo and Khris Middleton are just a trio of exciting young stars that they have on their side, and they will fancy their chances of pulling off an upset.
They will need to be at their best consistently in order to achieve it, but given that they have impressed throughout the regular season, it isn’t entirely impossible given that all the pressure and expectation will be on Chicago to advance where they could face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the semi-finals.
Milwaukee went 41-41 for the year while the Bulls were 50-32 as they held off the Toronto Raptors to claim the third seed in the Eastern Conference and end on a high with a win over leaders the Atlanta Hawks.
However, the slate is clean starting from Saturday and a new season begins for all remaining 16 teams as they look to fulfil their ambitions of winning a championship.
With the Bulls at home to get us started in Game 1, they will have enough to go 1-0 up in the series and take a commanding stance against their inexperienced and perhaps intimidated opponents in a different type of atmosphere.
Provided Rose has overcome soreness in his knee and the rest of the support cast are healthy enough to suit up, back Chicago to make a statement in this one and remind the Bucks that they are looking to make quick work of them with bigger tests ahead.
Prediction: Bulls to win.