[Thanks to enemy combatant pookeyguru for today's game preview. I'm not sure yet how the 9pm CST start times will throw off my recappin' game, but it likely will somewhat. -ed.]
Tonight is a battle of 2 teams at different paths in their journey. The Kings started out 1-3 before Kevin Martin was sidelined with a fractured left wrist, and subsequently had surgery, before winning the last 4 games to end up at 5-4. (None of this mentions that Francisco Garcia fractured his shooting wrist lifting weights on a physioball.) The Bulls have had their own fun share with injuries (Tyrus Thomas) so far, but have managed their own 5-4 start. I was told I could not make fun of Brad Miller writing this preview. (Boo!) However, it's clear Miller is happier in Chicago than he was in Sacramento at the end of his stay, and the early returns of Andres Nocioni in Sacramento have worked out pretty well all told. The stars of the Kings team are Tyreke Evans and Jason Thompson (especially since Kevin Martin went down), which makes this matchup more intriguing.
If I haven't lost you by now, see you after the jump. Also, I apologize for the length of this in advance.
Starting lineup's for the Bulls:
Starting lineup's for the Kings:
Ime Udoka (subject to change if Noc plays)
Andres Nocioni has been the starter at SF for Sacramento the last 5 games, but he suffered a hip pointer and is not expected to go tonight. UPDATE: Per Sam Amick's twitter said Donte Greene may start tonight.
By the numbers
In terms of Pace the Bulls are currently 18th, while the Kings are 12th. The Kings rank 24th in defensive efficiency, and the Bulls rank 8th. In Offensive efficiency, the Bulls rank 27th and the Kings rank 6th.(As such, I won't display the offensive and defensive 4 factors. If you wish, check them out here for both clubs.)
Rebounding, though, may surprise Bulls fans who expect the Kings to get killed on the boards tonight. The Kings are currently 2nd in offensive board%; 8th in defensive board%. Meanwhile the Bulls are 5th in ORB% and 14th in DRB%. If the Bulls are to win tonight, they will most likely need to control the backboards to secure a victory.
So why have the Kings won 4 in a row without Kevin Martin?
Several reasons. One is the improvement of Jason Thompson from last season. Yesterday, TZ had a good article on the very area's of where Jason had improved. Basically, he's a better offensive rebounder (by the numbers he's 3rd in the NBA), and an average defensive rebounder (still). He's turned the ball over less, racked up the assists, and the coaching staff will let him play through foul trouble. He gets to the foul line at a high rate too.
For the last 4 games: Tyreke Evans has averaged 23.8 points, 4.8 assists and 6.3 rebounds since Martin has went down. Jason Thompson has averaged 19.8 points, 2.3 assists and 11.5 boards. WaBeno Udrih has averaged 17.3 points, 4.3 assists and 3.3 boards.
On the year Evans has averaged: 16.6 points, 4.3 assists and 4.4 boards. Thompson has averaged 14.1 points, 2.9 assists and 10.1 boards. Udrih has averaged 13.5 points, 3.6 assists and 2.4 boards.
Also, Ime Udoka has been part of the rotation (Desmond Mason was waived to make room for Udoka) from the beginning of the 4 game win streak (10 days ago in Utah). In short, it's been an instance of better fit with role players (Udoka, Kenny Thomas instead of Sean May and Mason), and the other starters have played well so far in Martin's absence.
What are the marquee matchup's?
Well, in my mind, there are two.
The first matchup is Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans. (Sort of.) In the past several games, Paul Westphal has generally asked Beno Udrih to guard Russell Westbrook and Aaron Brooks. (Westbrook was 3-13 from the floor. Brooks was 4-13 from the floor.) While I won't be deluded enough to tell you that Udrih is a great defensive guard, he has been better during this 4 game win streak than he his past would indicate. If that continues it could be a difficult night for the Bulls to score if Derrick Rose doesn't have it going. Then again, I'm not sure we'll watch the Rose and Evans head to head matchup transpire tonight.
It's more likely VDN will ask Rose to defend Udrih (as most teams have with their PG's) and has Salmons guard Evans defensively. Whichever team exploits these matchup's offensively could dictate a possible outcome.
The other matchup I'm looking forward to is Jason Thompson vs Joakim Noah. Noah at the moment is the current NBA's top rebounder (as I'm sure every Bulls fan knows) at 12.2 a game. Noah is 4th in offensive rebounds per game, and Thompson is 2nd. The difference between the two is that Noah grabs the 9th most defensive boards a game, while Thompson grabs the 44th. Whoever wins this battle of offense vs defense boards will win the game I suspect. More importantly, from a Kings POV, Thompson is going to be greatly tested with Noah's defensive abilities. Noah also blocks a couple of shots a game, and Hawes & Thompson get their shots swatted often enough to give Noah ample opportunity to do so. If Taj Gibson chooses to get his block a game, he will receive ample opportunities to do so. Since fouls are a big part of the problem Thompson has faced in the past, it's possible that foul trouble could limit either Noah or Thompson and swing the matchup into the team that exploits said foul trouble. (Since Noah doesn't have very high foul rates, I think this is definitely a bigger concern for Thompson.)
Keys to the game
1) Chicago must keep this game in the high 80's/low 90's to win; on the year the Kings are averaging 112 points in victories and 95 points in defeats.
2) Again, rebounding.
3) Offensively the Bulls must move the ball. The Kings have 2 very good defenders in Udoka and Kenny Thomas, and a bunch of below average to good defenders elsewhere. (Tyreke Evans and Spencer Hawes are the other 2 quality defenders the Kings have at the moment not named Udoka or Thomas. Everyone else ranges in quality.) The Kings can be both exposed, and scored on, by moving the ball, getting to the FT line and hitting shots from the perimeter. But, as every Bulls fan knows that's easier said than done. By the same token the Kings do not boast a very high TS% or eFG% themselves. The Kings are efficient offensively because they have not turned the ball over 20 times a night (mostly), and they grab a lot of offensive rebounds.
4) Forcing turnover's may be an important key to victory to the Bulls. Transition defense is not the Kings strong suit and getting easy buckets this way (as many as possible) could help the Bulls slow the pace down and play a half court game. When the Kings turn the ball over (and they have turned it over to any team that can force TO's--the Bulls are 10th in forced TOV%), they are far easier to beat. (Shocking, I know.) I don't think I'm going out on much of a limb when I say whichever team gets more easy hoops will probably win.
5) The X Factors for tonight's game are the 2 headed monster of Brad Miller/Taj Gibson and Spencer Hawes. Hawes first. While it's easy for anyone to assume Hawes has struggled (and he has shooting the ball), it's also true that Hawes defense and defensive rebounding have been critical for the Kings during their 4 game win streak. If Taj Gibson, or Brad Miller I would guess, are able to exploit Hawes defensively (on the interior with athleticism/finishing strong for Gibson; on the perimeter with shooting/passing/ball movement for Miller), this will be important to helping Chicago pull out a victory.
6) Ime Udoka and Omri Casspi are vital in terms of energy and disruption in fueling Sacramento's defensive attack. If Luol Deng can neutralize them by scoring the ball, particularly from the perimeter where Deng is likely to have many open looks if the Bulls can take advantage, this could be a major strength the Bulls can exploit all night. The Bulls best 3 offensive options (Rose, Deng and Miller) must score the ball well to help Chicago keep pace offensively in a game where offense vs defense is so critical.
7) I'm nearly 104% positive the Bulls don't want to run up & down with the Kings. (Or with anyone actually.) The Bulls play at a slow grind it out pace that generally dictates low shooting percentages, and scores to go along with it. If the Bulls are able to dictate that tempo and take advantage of opportunities, they will win. Conversely, the Kings play far more efficiently at a faster pace. If the Kings win the rebounding battle, and are able to run their offense efficiently, I think prevailing is a large possibility. (I take nothing for granted when the Kings starting lineup is less than 25 years of age on average.) Given that the Bulls are starting their Carnival trip tonight, and will be on the road for tne next 13 weeks (actually days--but I wonder if it feels like that to the players), it's a golden opportunity for both clubs.
With a win the Bulls can get a win to start that 6 game trip away from the UC. If the Kings win tonight they can continue their win streak and complete a perfect homestand. (I personally care about the perfect homestand. That hasn't happened, since, crap I can't remember the last time that happened. After checking, it was when Eric Musselman was still coaching. Yikes!) Oh, I recognize that VDN is not beloved in any Bulls fan circle, but I'll be willing to stack up Eric Musselman against any terrible coaching hire this decade.
For an opponent (or completely Kings centric) point of view hit up the 916 circus better known as Sactown Royalty. Thanks for reading, and good luck tonight.
Game will tip off at 9pm CST on WGN.