[Thanks to THEKILLERWHALE for today's game preview. Need a few this week so sign up. And a reminder: our partners at TiqIQ have plenty of action going for discounted Chicago Bulls tickets to tonight's game -yfbb]
Hey gang! This is a bit early but I have work tomorrow and cannot waste time on the basketball blog (ah, who am I kidding).
The Bulls will be hosting the Indiana Pacers, continuing a modern day rivalry that has its roots in the Bull's victorious playoffs series with the Pacers in 2011. Both teams have more or less the same core so there remains no love lost between them. That said, notorious goons Jeff Foster, Josh McRoberts, Dhantay Jones and Ogie Ogelthorpe have taken their "talents" to the proverbial south beach which is, surprisingly, not the D-league (see this excellent, complimentary piece on Jones. You may actually weep.). However, semi-literate thug and enemy of the enlightenment, Tyler Hansbrough, and Roy "Talks Trash Beyond His Abilities" Hibbert remain in the rotation so expect the hard fouls and big talk that the Pacers seem to think is an adequate substitute for team identity in tonight's game.
Danny Granger, himself no stranger to big talk, is injured. This is a much bigger deal then anyone would have guessed as Granger is generally considered a mediocre star and is probably considered in 20% of all trade machine suggestions. The Pacers slow start, in spite of their very decent roster, probably has a lot to do with his absence (although Hibbert's Sweetney-esque numbers also may have something to do with it). The conference, once theirs for the taking, is more-or-less a tossup between the Pacers/Bucks/Bulls (UPDATE: The Bucks were just blown out by the Hornets which means that their season is over.). On to the matchups!
(On a personal note, I lived in southern Indiana for 5 years and found the people there to be quite decent. The trash talk is purely basketball related.)
Point Guard: George Hill vs. ... Ah screw it.
If it is Hinrich, we lose. If it is Nasty N8, we have a 60% chance of losing this matchup, 10% chance of really losing this matchup and a 30% chance of making them wish that Jacque Robinson had never met and made love to Renee Busch one fateful October evening (note to Pacers fans, 60 + 10 + 30 = 100).
I have not done a thorough analysis on the subject but, based on the eye test, Lance Stephenson is a bundle of bad ideas in an athlete's body. He has gotten off to an excellent start this season but, until sample sizes prove otherwise, he is a knucklehead of Javalesque proportions.
The big news in Chicago is that AARiP Hamilton is sidelined with a torn plantar fascia. This is not severe, but expect the minutes to be split between Belinelli, Butler and possibly Hinrich. Those masochist Bulls fans may finally get a chance to see Kirk at the 2-guard spot.
[Note by your friendly BullsBlogger: it's gonna be Belinelli ]
That said, Stephenson could burn the place up or burn it down, but predicting this is like predicting Nate Robinson.
Paul George has been touted as the "next Scottie Pippen" for over a year and has done nothing to indicate that he is anything other than a solid rotation player. He has reached near Rondoesque levels of over-underrating so that any analysis must be taken with a shaker of salt. The man is a fairly efficient 13 points 6 rebounds and plays decent D. He has size and athleticism but I have seen nothing to justify the kind of hype that he has gotten.
Luol Deng is offspring of Larry Bird and Jesus.
Davis West is a good, tough power forward. He is putting up 18/8 this season and appears to act like a grown up on the court.
Boozer is Boozer. He is rebounding well, but I am starting to think that this may be because he sacrifices position on defense for position on rebounding (thoughts?). That said, he really is an elite defensive rebounder and a good scorer in the right matchup. I do not think that he will win the position battle with West so Boozer will live and die by his 12 footer tonight.
Noah is the best center in the East. Poor-man's Noah in Cleveland is putting up gaudy numbers but this cannot be respected until his team starts winning (and they do have the pieces. It is time for them to win). Noah is putting up 13/10 with his usual incredible motor and relentless defense (not to mention playing 39 minutes a night). Hibbert is having an off season, starting out with many fewer points and rebounds than 10, but evening out at a 10/8. I do not know the cause. It may be maxdealitis or it may be that it is a result of the absence of the spacing that Granger once provided (and the rebounds that his inefficiency created!). He is currently a shell of his all-star self and I am not sure which incarnation is the fluke. At any rate, we know who is showing up tonight and this man has nothing on Joakim motherf*#%ing Noah.
Coach: Vogel vs. Thibs.
As you may or may not gathered, I find the Pacers somewhat insufferable. Their tough-guy schtick was painfully overdone and really just highlighted their lack of a real team identity. In the same way that tough guys are typically compensating for some crippling insecurity, so too do the Pacers, as a team, compensate for not really knowing who they are.
To me, the root cause of this is their coach, Frank Vogel, who talks nearly as much trash as Hibbert and Granger and seems to promote the strutting and posturing that defines the Pacers at their most immature. They have grown men on their roster, but they are invisible when contrasted with their more rooster-like players.
Thibs is intense, dedicated and knows the game. He could stand to manage his players better (for instance, feeding his talent pool minutes in a manner reminiscent of Popovich), but at the end of the day, you know who the Bulls are. They play intense defense and give every game their all. This is their identity. They are rarely drawn into the childish behavior that is all-too prevalent in the NBA and play the game like professionals and grown-ass men, although the rare exceptions to this rule are freakin' awesome (seriously, watch this clip).
Bench: Hansbrough Brothers vs. the Bench Slobs.
How great is it that they have both Hansbrough brothers on the bench? First, it kind've sounds like Hanson. Second, they are notorious psychos and goons. The Slap Shot parallels are uncanny! (Slap Shot is one of my favorite films. Check it out if you like Paul Newman, Michael Ontkean and a Maxine Nightengale dominated soundtrack.)
That said, I actually kind've like Psycho T in the "I would definitely like him if he were the 7th man on my team" kind of way. However, we have a certain hard hat wearing, lunch pail carrying PF named Taj Gibson and I would take him over Psycho T any day.
In some sense, Indiana's tale has paralleled our own since trades / injuries have hurt their once laudable depth. With Jimmy Butler finding his game I am forced to call this one a draw.
Prediction: Bulls 90 - Pacers 85.
This will be a tough, defensive game with no real scorers on the floor. Expect Lu Deng and the Bulls front-court to ride a slight edge to victory with the Bulls passing being the real difference maker.
Troll away Indiana fans! Check out Indy Cornrows for in depth analysis, semi-literate commentary and a fair idea of how a guy who thinks that rape is a gift from God can win 45% of the popular vote in our neighboring state! Enjoy the game!