[Note by your friendly BullsBlogger, 03/03/09 3:04 PM CST : Thanks to arjoseph for today's preview -ed.]
It's good to know that we're not the only ones frustrated by the Bulls. As fellow SB-Nation Bobcats blog Rufus on Fire notes in its preview of our upcoming game, "The Chicago Bulls are a frustrating team to sum up." (I would encourage everyone to click through to that preview, by the by; it's good stuff, an accurate encapsulation of the Bulls from the POV of an outsider. It also includes a clip of Brad Miller vs. the Diesel during Brad's first tour of duty in Chicago. (As a parenthetical to the parenthetical, I'm amazed that – on a team featuring Ron Artest and Charles Oakley – Brad Miller was the one who ended up shirtless and escorted from the floor. Perhaps this was before he started engaging in certain mellowing recreational activities.))
Accurate game-to-game prognostication of the Bulls' chances of success is nigh impossible recently (considering that the team varies so greatly game to game). It is doubly so (can something be doubly nigh impossible? I say yes) against a tweener team like the Bobcats who themselves are fairly unpredictable.
How do you categorize the Bobcats? Is Charlotte the type of juggernaut, certain-loss team that we seem to beat consistently? (No, they're not.) Are they bottom-dwellers that we should rout, but against all odds find a way to lose to? (Not really.) They pretty consistently lose to good teams and beat bad teams, but there are some aberrations: an overtime win over the (fully healthy) Lakers on Jan. 27 (in which they withstood a 24-14 game from Bynum and 40+ minutes from all the key Laker starters); a close OT loss to Orlando on Feb. 17 (which counts as a moral win); and a Jan. 6 OT win over Boston (owing almost exclusively to FT differential and a 91% completion rate, almost unheard of on a team with Emeka Okafor, and during Boston's inglorious fall from dominance following their Christmas loss to Los Angeles). They have lots of talented players. When they put it all together, they can be quite good. (Sound familiar?)
Compounding things is the fact that the 'Cats have morphed multiple times over the course of the year. They shipped out their best player (Jason Richardson) in December for Boris Diaw, the type of unique guy who instantly changes how a team can play. They've had their most talented player (Gerald Wallace) gimpy for stretches and in the coach's bad graces for others. Said coach, Larry Brown, is infamous for slow starts and better finishes, especially with his (frequent) reclamation projects of previously horrible teams. Recently, they've added a tall, outside-shooting wing (the "Radman" – or, as I like to call him, Vladmanovic) who still hasn't fully integrated himself into the offense. And their franchise center is still young enough to be inconsistent, looking dominant at times (17.8 pts, 11.5 rebs, and close to 2 blks per game in December on 60% shooting) in only his second fully healthy (so far) season.
And they also have Raymond Felton, whose season averages (and even monthly splits) fail to capture how consistently inconsistent he really is in every statistical category besides assists. He's a "score-first" point guard who dishes more consistently than he scores.
This should be a very interesting game. Both the Bulls and the 'Cats are chock-full of talent (haven't mentioned that Charlotte also has aging bomber Raja Bell and up-and-coming spark plug D.J. Augustin, as well as veteran reserve big men in Juwan Howard and Nazr "I'd Like to Buy a Vowel" Mohammed), but the Bulls are deeper (i.e., more "rotationally diverse"). The Bobcats are a slow (27th in pace factor), defensively minded team (9th in defensive efficiency) with some athletes and a shotblocking center (much like Houston), that can't take care of the ball (dead last in turnover ratio despite the slow pace and fundamentals-first coach – at least partially owing to horrible FT shooting). According to Hollinger's playoff odds, Charlotte clings to a sliver of hope but is most likely lottery bound (again).
Charlotte wins most consistently when they control the boards and move the ball (nothing mind-blowing there), or when they get fouled a lot and knock down free throws (as they did against the aforementioned Celtics and against the Bulls on Dec. 16, winning despite the fact that Chicago shot better, rebounded better, took more shots, and had fewer turnovers). Tyrus romped in that prior meeting, but the 'Cats were without Gerald Wallace. Unfortunately, D.J. Augustin also romped in that game, abusing Rose and penetrating the lane at will. Noah barely played as Gooden, Tyrus, and Gray got most of the minutes in the frontcourt. This time, hopefully Noah's defense will help deflect those dribble drives and the eventual Okafor post-ups (which Brad should also help on, having the size to keep Okafor from consistently deep post position). Noah should also have the athleticism and IQ to negate Diaw's creativity if Charlotte rolls him out at center. If Salmons can bear down on Wallace and Rose's improved defense can slow down Augustin/Felton, this should be a win. If only it were that simple.
Injury notes: Okafor rolled his ankle Saturday by landing on Marcus Camby's foot, but is probable for tonight. Deng is also (surprisingly) probable after an MRI disproved the stress fracture theory; we'll see. Tim Thomas is questionable with a knee strain, and Jerome James is still fat/out.
Game info: 6:00 p.m. Central on CSN (TV) and Espn 1000 (radio)