[Thanks to bigintangibles for today's game preview. GameThread up at 7:08 -ed.]
Tonight, the Bulls host the Utah Jazz (19-20), a team that had been outperforming expectations earlier in the year, but seems to have settled into its expected course -- at or around .500 (Sportsbook.com put the Jazz's over-under at 31.5 wins before the season).
This will be the two teams' only meeting this season; the Jazz will be playing the tail-end of a back-to-back, and their third game in four nights, with the game against the Bulls being their last on a five-game road trip on which they have gone 2-2 after last night's loss to Philadelphia. The Bulls, on the other hand, will be playing the second game of a six-game homestand with a night of rest on either side.
Getting a win would be huge for Utah, in particular because though it is only 1.5 games out of the 8th seed in the west playoffs, John Hollinger only gives them a 22% chance of making it. The Jazz mirror some of the Bulls statistical strengths (notably: crashing the offensive glass, rebounding in general, and general offensive efficiency), though they are not as good at any, while the Bulls still hold key advantages in other areas.
(Stats from ESPN's John Hollinger)
As we can see from Hollinger's advanced statistics, both teams are excellent rebounding outfits (the Bulls lead the league in rebound rate and offensive rebound rate, while the Jazz are 6th and 2nd overall in those categories respectively), and efficient offensive teams, but as per usual, the difference comes at the end of the floor where the Bulls hang their hats: defense.
While Chicago is, as expected, a top-tier defensive team (ranking 2nd in overall defensive efficiency), the Jazz are mired at 24th overall. The Jazz allow above-average PERs at PG, PF and C, and suffer net negative PERs at PG, SG and SF. Whereas the Bulls are +12 when it comes to point-differential per 100 possessions, the Jazz are -1 (all according to 82games.com).
Of course, as mentioned, where the Jazz are strong is up front -- Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are all big and tough, and it comes as no surprise the Jazz get PERs of over 20 from their PF and C positions. One way the Bulls may counter that will be to pack the middle, as the Jazz are an atrocious three-point-shooting team (their 30.1% from deep is 29th in the league). And, as we all know, the Bulls can also make things difficult for the Jazz up front with a variety of good-to-excellent defensive bigs...and Carlos Boozer.
The Bulls should be a little mindful of Al Jefferson actually passing, however, especially after he dished out this gem of a quote:
"It took eight years for me to realize if I passed the ball out and guys hit shots, it open[s] me up," Jefferson said. "I guess better late than never."
We could also see another strong game from Derrick Rose -- the Jazz's biggest PER differential is at PG, and Rose has averaged 24.7 PPG on 50% from the field and 47% from behind the 3PT line against Utah in his career. This is especially true with Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton expected to be out, though C.J. Watson is hoping to return (for more details on the injury situation, check out yfBB's update).
One factor to consider is that the Bulls have yet to lose back-to-back games so far this season -- in fact, in the eight games the Bulls have played following a loss, they have won them all by an average of 11.5 points. Coming off the loss to Orlando, you would expect Thibs will have the team ready to go. The Jazz, by contrast, are 10-9 after a loss, and 5-14 on the road.
Oh, and by the way, the Jazz have this guy:
Chicago: Richard Hamilton; Luol Deng; C.J. Watson (UPDATE: KC Johnson says Luol and CJ were held out of shootaround and Rip is out.)