[Thanks to paddyfairview for today's game preview. Gamethread up at 9:37. -ed.]
Just five days after Rose's game-winner (and Deng's heroics) in the season opener, it's back to the Staples Center for a Friday night showdown against the suddenly-relevent Clippers. Before we get to the matchups, a few words about an old friend:
According to both the eye test and advanced metrics, Vinny Del Negro is the luckiest sonofabitch in the universe. After transitioning from marginal NBA talent and radio announcer to head coach of an exciting team featuring the rookie of the year, he was savvy enough to get into a fistfight with his boss (can you think of a less compelling fight between two ex-NBA players than John Paxson vs. Vinny Del Negro?) and got the boot just as the team was clearing cap space to sign a superstar. Shunted off to the NBA backwater that is the Clippers organization, he now finds himself in the lowly position of...head coach of an exciting team featuring the rookie of the year. Which incidentally just acquired a superstar in Chris Paul. Along the way he's landed several lucrative hair-product endorsement deals, not to mention a ladyfriend who could help Mrs. Pippen put the Luv-A-Bulls to shame. Guess that's what happens when you're mediocre-to-downright-terrible at your job.It was pretty sickening to see the on-their-way-to-32-wins LAC squad walking out of the UC with a victory last season, even if the Bulls did do everything in their power to give the game away. The loss was avenged to some degree with a blowout at Staples a month and a half later, but giving that first one to Vinny still stings. The Clippers look to be a much more respectable team this year, but it will never not suck to lose to a VDN-coached team.
So far this season the Clips have handily defeated our nemeses the Warriors (though they looked pretty shaky in the first half and took advantage of poor shooting and terrible defense by GSW in the second to lock up the win) and then been handily defeated themselves by the Spurs in San Antonio. A newly-constructed and not necessarily disciplined team with few defensive assets isn't going to beat a Popovich team, and Golden State not playing D isn't news, so there's not a lot concrete we can take from LA's two previous games. They'll need time to get used to one another's games, though Paul and Billups' pretty miserable shooting should improve in the short term.
They've got Star Power, but the Bulls actually match up against the Clips pretty well. Let's take a look:
Point Guard: Derrick Rose vs. Chris Paul is never not something to tune in for, and though the purists (and others, I suppose) still like Paul as the best PG, Derrick came out on top at their last meeting, with 23 points on 15 shots and four boards to Paul's 15 points on 3-for-10 shooting (each had six assists). We all know Paul is an artful passer and an efficient and mostly mistake-free player, but if the Bulls team defense is up to snuff he'll have to shoot well to come out on top. With DeAndre Jordan as pretty much the only credible basket-protector for the Clips, and with a lot of old/undersized/unwilling defenders on the wings, there's no reason Rose shouldn't have a good night.
Shooting Guard: Ah, it's good to have something relevant to say about this position. Rip Hamilton looks to be a pretty consistent scoring threat, and he should be a big pain in his old buddy Chauncey's old ass. As for Mr. Big Shot, he was 6-19 on Christmas and 2-5 in fewer minutes against the Spurs, so unless he gets going he'll be sagged off like his name is Rajon "Fuck" Rondo. We may be seeing more Mo Williams here if he continues to stink it up.
Small Forward: Considering he signed for eight million per, it seems unlikely that Caron Butler was ever close to being a Bull, but expect stormy weather here at BaB if he has a better night than Rip. He's a good two-way player, but he hasn't had a big offensive night yet. I dont expect him to against the almost-inhuman Luol Deng, who continues to be everywhere at once.
Power Forward: Carlos Boozer hasn't looked bad, but unless he plays out of his mind this is going to be all about Blake Griffin. I'm assuming that Booz will be responsible mostly for offensively-challenged DeAndre Jordan on the defensive end, leaving Noah to deal with Blake "The Barbarian" (anyone remember that nickname guy? LOL), who had 28 & 9 on Wednesday. I'm looking forward to Omer denying him a big dunk, but given Boozer's record against shot-blockers, I fear it will be the Bulls on the wrong end of a few good swats.
Center: Stupid big man market. The $$$$ might not show it, but Noah is a significantly better player than DeAndre Jordan in almost every way. Or at least he's supposed to be - I'm still waiting on November 2010 Noah to show up and drop 14 and 17. Short of that, I hope he can stay out of foul trouble and hit a few improbable 15 footers. Come back, Beast Mode Noah, we miss you.
Bench: No contest here. The Bench Mob has its weaknesses but the Clips are very thin, especially up front. They signed Reggie Evans, but he hasn't played a minute yet, and Brian Cook, Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye shouldn't strike fear into anyone's heart.
Both the offense and defense have been pretty inconsistent so far for the Bulls. They'll need to establish their offense early, getting out on the break and not allowing things to grind to a halt, and play good team defense against the Clips offensively-potent starting lineup if they want to win. If they continue to foul and turn the ball over, or if the stress of a back-to-back puts them a step behind the well-rested Clippers, then Vinny will once again have the last laugh.
Please, guys, don't let Vinny have the last laugh.
Game is at 9:30 on WGN and NBATV.
Smack talk goes here: Clips Nation