[Thanks to wjb1492 for today's game preview -ed.]
Ladies, gentlemen, and other BaB posters, welcome to the first payback game of the young season - the 6 and 5 Bulls (2 and 4 away) at the 8 and 4 Nuggets (4 and 0 home). Undoubtedly, you all also remember Brad's last second shot that was ruled just a little too last second, leaving the Bulls with a 1-point loss instead of a 1-point victory when the teams first matched up less than 2 weeks ago. Whether you think the refs got the call right or wrong, to come so close to a win and not get it still hurt. And I'm not usually one for bulletin board material, but Chauncey Billups' post-game quote forever cemented him as a first-grade ass in my mind.
Chauncey Billups sat and laughed, figuring the Denver Nuggets would celebrate soon enough. In the meantime, the Chicago Bulls were having their moment.
“As soon as I saw the flight of the ball, I knew it was good,” Billups said. “Then, I was sitting and laughing. Not so much about the shot, but looking at their reaction. They were dancing and jumping around like they had just made the Sweet 16. The longer it took, the better I felt. It was a great ending.”
(OK, to be honest, he was already cemented there, but it did remind me that I can't stand him, going all the way back to college.)
Since that game, our Bulls are 2 and 2, with wins over Philly and Sacramento and losses to Toronto and the Lakers. Since that time, Denver is also 2 and 2 - ironically with absolutely dominant wins over Toronto and the Lakers, but with losses to Milwaukee and the Clippers. That loss to the Clippers came just last night, so the glass-half-full types will undoubtedly focus on the second night of a back-to-back aspect of this, while the glass-half-empty types are sure the Nuggets will come out focused and full of fire after an embarrassing loss. I'm not sure which way I lean, to be honest. This will be Denver's 5th back-to-back, and they're 2-2 in the first four so it's not as if they never win on the second night. Plus the game's in their building, where they have yet to lose this season. On the other hand, Melo, Nene, and K-Mart all played big minutes last night trying to avoid that loss, so no matter how focused they come out there's at least a decent possibility they wear down by the end of the game.
Denver is 4th in offensive efficiency compared to Chicago's 27th, but 17th in defensive efficiency compared to Chicago's 5th. The Nuggets are led by Carmelo Anthony, currently averaging over 30 points per game, Nene with almost 9 rebounds a game, and Evil Billups with just under 6 assists per game. They have been held under 100 points only 4 times this season, but one of those games was the 90-point effort against the Bulls, Denver's second lowest point total of the season in which they collectively shot only 41.7%, 31.3% from 3, well under their season averages. If the Bulls can have another solid defensive effort tonight, they'll have a good shot at coming away with a win.
The caveat, of course, is that the Bulls still have to outscore Denver, no matter what point total they can hold the Nuggets to. And as we are all undoubtedly aware, the Bulls have scored 100 points or more only once this season, a 101-point effort against the Kings. Average points scored is a nearly meaningless stat in and of itself, but it is symbolic of the Bulls offensive struggles this season - plus, I can't help but laugh that the Nuggets points average is higher than the Bulls best scoring game of the season. The Bulls are led by Luol Deng with 16.4 points, Joakim Noah with 12.6 rebounds, and Derrick Rose with 5.5 assists per game. The early season MVP for the Bulls is undoubtedly Joakim, who has 8 double-doubles in 11 games so far, including double-doubles in 6 straight games. On the other end of the spectrum, the goat (not GoaT) of the season so far has been the 3 guard rotation, shooting a collective 39%, 30% from 3, and with a 1.8 A/TO ratio. (Yeah, I don't like A/TO ratio much either, but I'm too lazy to calculate the collective assist and TO percentages.)
In good news, there are some signs the guards are starting to come around. Derrick's shooting percentage over the last 5 games is up to 45.3%, compared to 42.5% in the first 6 games, and the majority of people seem to feel he was much more aggressive in the last half of the Lakers game. And while John and Kirk still aren't shooting great overall, the improvement in 3% for the last 5 games compared to the first 6 is quite nice - John is at 44% for the last 5 compared to 23.3% over the first 6, and Kirk is at 38.5% for the last 5 compared to 25% over the first 6. Better shooting on the 3s from those 2 will help the team out a lot.
In interesting yet totally meaningless splits stats, Saturdays (all 2 games, and against Charlotte and Philly!) have been Derrick's best shooting day (56.5%) by far, but also his worst day for TOs with both of his two 7 TO games coming on Saturday. Kirk (14 ppg) and John (20.5 ppg) both score the most on Saturdays (and on good shooting), while JJ has played (4.5 ppg) without scoring a single point. Taj shoots the worst on Saturdays (27.3%). Joakim is an absolute beast - 17.5 ppg on 65.2% shooting with 14 rpg.
The accuscore simulations for tonight's game definitely do not favor the Bulls - we lost 76% of the time, and lost big 47.4% of the time. Of course, we were underdogs last time I did the game preview, too (that was the Cleveland game), and as I explained then I always take the Bulls, no matter how ridiculous it looks on paper. It worked that time, so here's to hoping for another "underdog" victory. My guess: Bulls 102-95. After all, with Joakim, John, and Kirk all playing well on Saturdays, how could they lose? ;)