Game Preview #55 - Chicago Bulls vs. Denver Nuggets

[Thanks to jammaster2j for today's game preview. I'm assuming all the new acquisitions will not be available tonight -ed.]

Before the season, I almost bought tickets to this game to see A.I. and Melo playing together.  I decided against it because the game was right after the deadline and figured that A.I. (and his contract) would be on the move.  Turns out I was right, but off by a few months.  Also turns out that the Nuggets were not the team making things happen at the deadline.

Should be an interesting matchup at PG.  Billups is a  big /strong / versatile PG, who should be able to take D-Rose to the post.  That's not to say D-Rose is not strong himself, but he is only 20 years old.  He should have a quickness advantage at the other end.  The Nuggets will have to respect Mad Bad Brad on the pick-and-roll, which should cause some extra space for D-Rose to create off the dribble.  I always hope to see D-Rose learn something from the opposing PG, and I think Chauncey oozes composure with the ball, plus control / management of each possession.  Hopefully Rose can pick up some of that, and also how to use his size / strength as an advantage.

The Nuggets are decently sized at SG and have Melo at SF, so it could be a good game to get Salmons' feet wet at both positions.  He can come in for BG or Luol and play either of those positions, so I’m excited to see how VDN takes advantage of his size and versatility.  Salmons could be the go-to scorer of the second unit, as he was averaging 18ppg with the Kings.

After spending the last few weeks arguing / hoping against giving up TT for Amare, a part of me now feels tied to his performance / development over the next 4-5 years.  His recent increase in minutes (b/c of Gooden’s injury) should continue after the trades, and I expect to see continued improvement in his scoring and rebounding numbers.  His February (last 6 games) has been great (16.2ppg, 9.5 rpg) - even with a slow game in the win at Milwaukee the other night

It will be an interesting battle down low, as the Nuggets have a lot of size and athletic ability (Kenyon Martin, Nene and Birdman).  The Nuggets were looking for more size at the deadline, even showing some interest in JoaNoah.  The Bulls also now have a lot of size (Mad Bad Brad, JoaNoah) and athletic ability (TT).  Depending on the new rotation used by VDN, this feels like a battle we can win down low.

The Nuggets (currently the 2 seed in the West) have only played once since the All-Star break, but won twice in a row before that - so they are riding a 3-game win streak.  They played pretty poorly in the 1st half of their last game against Philly, but made up for it with a strong second half to get the win.

The Nuggets won when these two teams met in Denver earlier this season, getting 20+ points from Melo, Billups and Kenyon Martin.  Hopefully the Bulls can get three players going like that in tonight's game at the UC, continuing the pattern of splitting the season series with the Nuggets that has been ongoing for the last four seasons.

It would be nice to see the Bulls put together a strong effort for 48 minutes while starting to get adjusted to the new roster and rotations.  The Bulls (currently 1.5 games out of the 8 spot in the East) have been alternating wins and losses this whole month, and we could use a win here to get 2-in-a-row and some momentum going for the playoff push.

Now a quick look at where this week's activity leaves the Bulls now and going forward

(1) Miller / Salmons from the Kings:  loved this move when it happened – got rid of a bad contract and got back legit talent, but left us thin at PF.

Miller - Huge upgrade in the frontcourt.  A big man who can hit the J in the pick-and-roll, and hopefully take the minutes Aaron Gray was getting.  

Salmons - I would love to see him start at the SG spot eventually, which would actually give us a big backcourt.  But with Noc gone, we need Salmons to backup Luol at the SF right now.

(2) Tim Thomas / James from the Knicks: Looks pretty worthless at first, but actually was a good / necessary trade.  Collectively they make the same amount as Hughes would - just turns 1 contract into two.  That shouldn't matter if we are going to let them lapse next year  to use the money for free agency in 2010.  (Hopefully making a move for Bosh and running out the lineup of: Rose, Salmons, Luol, TT and Bosh). 

Tim Thomas - Can get 12-15 minutes at the 4 (we had no one to backup TT with Noc and Gooden gone), which leaves most of the minutes for TT to develop alongside D-Rose.

James - Wish he didn't have that player option (so there was some $ available to throw at BG), but the key will be getting the injury retirement approved to get his contract off the books for next year (in which case we will save significant money over keeping Hughes).

(3) Thabo to Thunder: How Pax managed to turn Thabo into a first round pick at this point is beyond me.  I had lost hope with Thabo because we haven't seen any improvement on offense, and he really hasn't been the defensive stud he was hyped to be.  Love this deal, even if it turns out to be the Nuggets late first-rounder.

Overall, we should look like this the rest of the way (but who knows with VDN):

PG: Rose / Kirk (nothing changes)
SG: BG /  Salmons / Kirk  ( BG / Salmons getting most of Thabo’s minutes)
SF: Luol / Salmons (share Noc’s minutes)
PF: TT / Tim Thomas (TT gets 30-35 minutes per game)
C: Miller / Noah / Gray (eventually start Miller to run the pick-and-roll with D-Rose, then Miller and JoaNoah split the minutes - with Gray barely getting off the bench)

Not a bad rotation to make a run at the playoffs. 

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