Bulls vs. Knicks preview: Lineups unknown, badness likely

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

[Thanks to Alex for today's game preview. Need a few more this month if you're interested in signing up -yfbb]

This looks to be a real bummer of a contest. The Bulls (8-11) meet the Knicks (5-15) at Madison Square Garden with both teams reeling with 2-8 records over their last ten games.

After suffering their third worst home blowout-loss in team history over the weekend (and the season's biggest route thus far), the Knicks regrouped Tuesday to... lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers (themselves only 8-13 and somewhat in disarray) by 15 points, 109-94. Tyson Chandler or no Tyson Chandler, their season has been an embarrassment thus far and this fan would be appalled if Melo was voted onto his seventh All-Star team this season by even the most deluded Knicks fans. I'm pretty sure the coaches wouldn't touch him if he wasn't voted on as a starter by fans, the East has plenty of good forwards more deserving of recognition.

Anyway, the Knicks. Well, after a brutal nine-game losing streak, they did win two consecutive games in crushing a banged-up Brooklyn squad and a bottom-dwelling Orlando team... prior to two consecutive double-digit defeats at the hands of Boston (only 10-13, by the way, but currently seeded fourth in the Eastern Conference) and now Cleveland.

PG -Raymond Felton - Insert fluctuating weight joke here. Seriously, what has the dude been doing with his summers? I wonder if James Dolan ever watches Houston games to torture himself. And Jeremy Lin, who's kicking ass this season (relative to his performance last season, I mean) isn't even starting on the Rockets! Felton looked decent playing with Jason Kidd last season, but has faltered handling the offense this year. He's averaging 10.6 ppg, a steal, and 5.3 apg, and shooting 39.5% from the floor. Not sure why Prigioni isn't starting yet, but I guess that's good news for the Bulls.

SG -Iman Shumpert - The broke man's Jimmy Butler, Shumpert is a 3-and-D type guy who, since his ACL tear, hasn't been able to hit 3-pointers particularly well (shooting 34.5%, a notch below the 35.9% league average this season) or play much D. I think it's time he grew that flat-top back.

SF - Metta World Peace - On Sunday, Mike Woodson started Tim Hardaway Jr. at the three. On Tuesday, he opted for the Artist Formerly Known As Artest, giving the Queens product his first start in the Blue and Orange.  In that game, in 20 minutes of action, MWP pulled down a sterling 2 points on three shots, had as many turnovers as he did rebounds (2 of each), and grabbed 3 personal fouls. His season stats (6.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.8 apg, 39.1% fg and 17.6 mpg - career-lows across the board) do not inspire confidence, and he has lost more than a few steps on defense.

SF/PF - Carmelo Anthony - Playing at power forward - which is quite obviously a better positional fit for him -- only because Kenyon Martin is 108 years old (fine, 36) and injury-prone (in this case it's a sore left ankle), Melo should be getting to the line a bit more than normal. Which is especially worrisome matchup-wise since Carlos Boozer is a pretty blatant hacker. If Luol Deng is healthy, he will be switching onto Melo on most defensive possessions. If not, though, maybe Thibs opts for Taj to spot Boozer? Anthony is averaging 25.2 PPG and a stellar 9.7 boards, albeit while shooting a just-OK 43.1% from the field. When he wants to incorporate his team and is patient with their shooting, he can be very fun to watch; the rest of the time, he's like a more talented Rudy Gay: a pass-averse offensive stud, prone to a lot of dribbling around before forcing up weird hero shots.

C - Andrea Bargnani - One of the worst-rebounding non-Brook Lopez big men getting meaningful minutes in an NBA rotation has at least been shooting OK this season (45.4% on the season, mostly on jumpers, of course, since he is allergic the low post). He is averaging 14.7 points and 5.3 rebounds while playing 30 minutes a night. As the Knicks' current #2 offensive option (unless JR Smith ever recuperates), they need him to do more. Unfortunately, this is probably about all he can hope to give them. He'll fit better once Chandler returns to center and Bargnani can come off the bench as essentially a 7-foot jump shooter.

Key Bench Players

SG - J.R. Smith - The reigning Sixth Man of the Year has not looked the same since he hard-fouled Jason Terry in the first round of last spring's playoffs. He is averaging 11.2 points a game, which sounds okay until you realize that he is doing this while shooting 34.8% from the field. 34.8%!

PG - Pablo Prigioni - The rightful starting point guard, Prigioni is a very good shooter who would be a huge help to this team if given the opportunity to run its offense for more than 16 minutes a night. I'm not really sure what Woodson is thinking giving the keys to Felton. Prigioni is shooting 50% from deep, 54.5% from the field overall, and averaging 1.1 steals in limited time! 16 minutes doesn't give him much time, obviously, so he is only averaging 3.4 ppg and 2.5 apg; I guess the big issue is that, at 36, he lacks the quickness to keep up with opposing point guards on defense. That fact should be somewhat mitigated by the fact that, by being at least 15 pounds overweight, nominal starter Raymond Felton also has little hope of keeping up with opposing point guards on defense.

PF - The Somewhat-Reanimated Corpse of Ama're Stoudemire - In Sunday's hilarious/embarrassing trouncing by Brad Stevens' Celtics scrubs, STAT actually had a decent game, posting 17 points on an efficient seven shots, with two boards and a block. Yes, his +/- was -12, but still. Baby steps. For the season, the former six-time All-Star has appeared in a mere 14 games (out of a possible 20), playing 15 minutes per, and averaging 6.2 points and 2.9 rebounds, relatively efficient numbers considering his limited time allotments. Woodson may sit him since this game would mark the second of a back-to-back. It's a shame what's happened to him, but many, many teams in the summer of 2010 not owned by James Dolan saw it coming and protected themselves against it by not signing him for $97 million over five years with knees that literally could not be insured.

Despite all their issues, the Knicks have the great fortune of playing in the Eastern Conference, and are only 3.5 games back of the Boston Celtics for the top record in the Atlantic Division and automatic top-four playoff seed. After Tyson Chandler returns and, hopefully, Prigioni starts getting more meaningful minutes, the Knicks should make the playoffs. And lose in the first round in five (unless they finish seventh or eighth, in which case they will be swept by the Pacers or Heat). For now, though, they're a train wreck.

That being said, we're not much better off at the moment. Joakim Noah, who was out on Tuesday with either a right thigh bruise (according to the Chicago Sun Times) or a "knee contusion" (according to a report written by Nick Friedell after the Bucks game), pledged that he would travel with the Bulls to the Garden for tonight's match-up. You'd figure his presence could make a big difference against the Knicks' defensively-challenged post-Tyson frontcourt (K-Mart's 18.4 mpg notwithstanding).

The Bulls' Starting 5: We can't really be sure until game time, because Tom Thibodeau has not officially ruled out either Jimmy Butler (turf toe) or Luol Deng (Achilles). Butler is a probable scratch, but Deng's fate is more up in the air. Assuming he too is sat, the starting five would probably be Hinrich, Snell, Dunleavy, Boozer, and Gibson (Nazr Muhammed started yesterday against the Bucks, but since the Knicks are less low post-inclined than the Bucks I would assume Thibs opts for Taj).

Overall Performance Outlook: Hate to say it, but I think the Knicks have our number this time. Unless one of the four injured starters (obviously not the one with the meniscus tear) comes back to put up a decent fight. Honestly, I'd say this brutal stretch has me more convinced than ever that this team without Rose cannot create enough offense to win much anyway, and that some tank-tastic trades should be explored so that Reinsdorf can get under his precious salary cap and we can get another first rounder and hopefully boost our own chances at our pick landing in the top 8-10 (if we move Deng and sit guys with "injuries" down the stretch, I have full confidence we can be that bad).

Random Thought: Why do some Bulls fans want Melo on this team in 2014 again?

Tip at 7:00 CST/8:00 EST on CSN Chicago and ESPN.

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