Bulls vs. Bobcats preview: Bulls go for 5 straight

USA TODAY Sports

[Thanks to illinifey for today's game preview. Sign up! -yfbb]

The Bulls (5-3) are coming off undoubtedly their best, most complete win of the young season over the previously undefeated Indiana Pacers and Thibodeau’s bunch finally looks like….well….the Bulls. And the timing couldn’t be better.

With four straight wins of at least 15 points and Derrick Rose looking close enough to his old self that the pre-season MVP talk by some experts is just slightly crazy as opposed to totally crazy, The Bulls are being sent off on their annual "Circus Trip" by a visit from MJ’s Bobcats (Is it fair to call them MJ’s Bobcats if I’m fairly certain that he can’t name more than 4 players on the team?).

The dreaded "Circus Trip" long has served as a litmus test every season for what to expect the rest of the year from the Bulls. Going back to the Jordan years, if they were able to survive the gauntlet of formidable Western Conference foes, especially the "Texas Triangle", with at least a .500 record, good things were bound to happen. A negative trip didn’t always spell doom, but often times, post-Jordan especially, it did. The best thing that can be said about the trip is that if played correctly, it can serve as a blessing because it allows the Bulls to spot their shortcomings early enough in the season to make internal adjustments and/or look for outside help.

Circus Trip - Last 10 Years

Circus

Overall

Year

W

L

W

L

12-13

2

3

45

37

11-12

NO CIRCUS TRIP

10-11

4

3

62

20

09-10

1

5

41

41

08-09

3

4

41

41

07-08

1

5

31

49

06-07

1

6

49

33

05-06

3

3

41

41

04-05

1

6

47

35

03-04

0

5

23

59

TOTAL

16

40

380

356

%

29%

52%

Enough about the trip....the key right now is not looking past the last game before the trip.

So what do we expect from the Bobcats or "The Future Hornets"….

Charlotte is 5-5 and while their record is hard to believe considering the players currently populating their roster, keep in mind they were at about the same place last season. But by looking at the figures, it looks like they’re ready to begin their annual descent to the bottom of the standings.

ALL GAMES

IN WINS

IN LOSSES

Year

W

L

PPG

PPA

PtDiff

PPG

PPA

PtDiff

PPG

PPA

PtDiff

12-13

6

4

96.7

98.8

-2.1

95.3

90.7

4.6

98.8

111

-12.2

13-14

5

5

89.2

93.6

-4.4

91.8

86.8

5

86.6

100.4

-13.8

After starting 7-5 last season, the Bobcats went 14-56 the rest of the way. With the current numbers being what they are and keeping in mind the their collapse last season, Charlotte’s mediocre performance early in 13-14 is not sustainable. They’re relying on grinding out victories when other teams can’t make their shots and getting shellacked when they can. Limiting opponents to under 94 points is a little because of good defense and a lot because they play at a snail’s pace hoping they can catch better teams on a bad night, limit opponents’ possessions, force teams to be patient, create a few turnovers (5th in the league in TOV%) and rely on the free throw line for most of their offense (3rd in the league in FTA/FGA). A closer look at their roster shows why they can’t score, why the Bulls should have a field day with them and why the Bobcats, short of scrapping it all and starting over, is doomed to repeat their lack of recent success.

Starters: Kemba Walker / Gerald Henderson / Michael Kidd-Gilchrist / Josh McRoberts / Al Jefferson

Bench: Ramon Sessions, Jeffrey Taylor, Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo, Anthony Tolliver

PG Kemba Walker is the closest thing the Bobcats have to a rising star and I use that term very loosely considering he’s currently shooting 34% from the floor, heaving up prayers that aren’t being answered. His inability to create offense for himself and for the rest of the team is due in large part to two factors:

1) Defenses collapsing on him and trapping him due to a lack of perimeter options. Henderson and Kidd-Gilchrist offer very little on the wings in terms of perimeter shooting and rely solely on their athletic ability to get to the basket to create offense. If Walker were a traditional PG, that would be a fit. But because he’s more of a scoring PG needing to penetrate and kick to create offense, there isn’t a good match with Walker and the current wings on the roster.

2) Al Jefferson only playing three of their 10 games. The Bobcats best case scenario for success this season is for Walker and Jefferson (or even Zeller) to run effective two-man inside-outside situations whether its high ball-screens, side pick and rolls or dump downs to the left block where Jefferson can go to work or kick it out to Walker. With Big Al playing only 3 games this season, who knows when they will finally mesh and the Bobcats will reap the benefits.

Whether or not Jefferson plays should not change the Bulls strategy too much and shouldn’t have much bearing on the outcome. On offense, I expect a lot of Rose and Boozer attacking the Bobcats on the pick and roll. The size of Butler and Deng means Kidd-Gilchrist or Henderson is going to have to stay on the wings instead of defending Rose, forcing Walker into a difficult defensive assignment. While Walker is improving on defense, being forced to defend Rose (even a Rose at 75-85%) is no easy task. Whoever is guarding Boozer (Jefferson or McRoberts; I expect Biyombo to match Noah’s energy when he’s in), will have an even harder time considering their defensive deficiencies and Boozer’s knack for capitalizing on advantageous matchups. If Kidd-Gilchrist or Henderson does switch onto Rose later in the game, I would expect Butler or Deng to take advantage of the size mismatch on the offensive end.

Defensively, Thibodeau will incorporate the same strategy every other team uses on the Bobcats only it will look like it’s on steroids due to the Bulls game-in, game-out defensive intensity. They will cheat off the wings to prevent the Bobcats from getting into the paint and force them to make outside shots. They will matchup Noah and Jefferson (again, if he plays) and double only if needed. They will overload the strong side even more knowing the Bobcats lack of outside shooting prevents them from capitalizing on an overambitious defensive rotation. And more than likely, the Bulls will win.

Could this be a trap game? Or is it a win masquerading as a trap game? I lean toward the latter. The Bulls are on too much of a roll right now to drop a home game a) before a long road trip b) against a far inferior opponent c) and after looking so bad the first 4 games of the season. The Bulls aren’t about to take anyone for granted at this point. I fully expect the Bulls to head to the Pepsi Center in Denver at 6-3 and for Bulls fans to feel very good about what’s transpired since their last loss to the Pacers.

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