[Note by your friendly BullsBlogger, 04/07/09 3:52 PM CDT: Thanks to wjb1942 for today's game preview. I'm Lovin' it Live tonight!!! -ed.]
So the end of the regular season draws near, with the Bulls begining their final stretch of 5 games in 9 days. Tonight, the Bulls (25-12 home) host our old friends, the Knicks (11-27 away) - the usual 7:30 central start. Flash back with me for a moment to January 26th. The Bulls record sat at 18-27, coming off a 5 game losing streak, and the season was about to be infamously branded a "disaster" by the chairman himself. Meanwhile, the Knicks stood at 19-25 and were 4-1 over their last 5 games, including a win over the Bulls. Since then, the Bulls have gone 19-13 to pull into a tie for the 7th seed, and have had their first 3- and 4-game wining streaks since the 06-07 season. The Knicks have gone the other direction, losing 22 of their next 33 games, including two 6-game losing streaks, falling to 14th in the Eastern Conference standings. D'Antoni has basically said no Knick's job is safe (excepting Gallinari), so it will be interesting to see how they come out and play tonight. It would be nice to think of the game as an easy win, but the Knicks are capable of coming out strong when they choose to.
It's almost crazy to think about all the dealings between these two teams over the past few years, dating back to lottery watching after the Knicks gave up 2 unprotected first round picks to get Eddy Curry. For the record, Eddy has played a total of 12 minutes for the Knicks this year, scoring a total of 15 points, while those first round picks of Tyrus and Joakim have played a combined 3,792 minutes and scored a combined 1,267 points. Eddy has had a horribly tough year off the court and, imo, is a genuinely good guy, and I really wish things had turned out better for him, individually - but I don't mind that they've worked out this way for the Knicks at all, you know?
Eddy is certainly not the only former Bull now playing for the Knicks. The Knicks chose former Bull Chris Duhon as their PG for the year last off-season, signing him for the full MLE to a multi-year deal. Du's shooting is up this year (.423, .392 from 3), and his other numbers per minute are slightly up as well, but overall Du has played like the Du of old, just in greater minutes. He has been on a tear this month so far - all 2 games of it - averaging 17 ppg on .565 shooting. The Knicks also acquired former Bull Larry Hughes in a deadline trade, and while Larry is getting his starter, big-minutes role in New York, he's actually playing worse on a per-minute basis with the Knicks. Larry has kindly documented his displeasure with the Bulls organization, so it will be interesting to see whether he comes out in full payback mode. The funny thing is, while Larry is capable of a big game here and there, this just doesn't scare me much - it really seems like Larry in payback mode would actually benefit the Bulls.
On the Accuscore front, the Bulls won 76.7% of the simulations by an average score of 113-104.4, with 47.2% of those wins by more than 10 points. For the Bulls, Lu continues to be out with the stress fracture. For the Knicks, Eddy Curry is questionable (as if that wasn't a given...), while rookie Gallinari is out after having back surgery.
On the scoreboard watching front, the Bulls magic number for clinching a playoff spot is 3 - any combination of Bulls wins and Bobcats losses. Detroit, with which the Bulls are currently tied for 7th and with the tie-breaker yet to be determined, is off. Miami is virtually uncatchable for the Bulls - the Heat would have to lose out and Chicago win out. For anyone hoping for this miracle, Miami hosts the Hornets tonight (6:30 central start). The game of most interest to Bulls fans, from a standings perspective, is the Philly-Charlotte matchup (6:00 central start). The Bulls have a ridiculous amount of ground to make up in 5 short games to catch the Sixers, but a Bulls win and a Sixers loss would narrow that gap to 2.5 games, with a game still to be played between them on Thursday. It's a gigantic longshot anyway, but it could make things interesting down the stretch. On the other hand, a Charlotte loss tonight would be another huge step toward the Bulls clinching at least the 8th seed. Fun time of season - tomorrow night these same Knicks will host the Pistons, so hopefully Larry saves his big game dramatics for them. ;)
Don't forget to check out the action at Posting and Toasting. And GO BULLS!