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Here's the worst thing about playing Indiana, and believe me, there's a long list to choose from: even though we've nabbed one of their goons (the recently-signed Lou Amundson), we can't pay them back in kind for their hack-a-Rose-not-to-put-him-at-the-line-but-to-put-him-on-the-floor tactics - they haven't got a Rose. They haven't even got a Noah. They have a Hibbert, the ginormous Georgetown product who occasionally (think beginning of the Miami series) looks like a max-worthy game-changer, and occasionally (think end of the Miami series) looks like the frustrated giant in a Saturday morning cartoon being circled and poked by the good guys as he swats futilely at thin air. More significantly, they have a George (last-name George, not first-name George), who dropped 34 on the Bulls in December and then added 21 and 11 rebounds a month ago. He could be a target to sick the goons on, but here's the best (and worst) thing about being Chicago (and believe me, there are perhaps three right now to choose from): they won't play that way even with Rose out. Our Bullies are going to have to dig deep and play good clean (scrappy, gritty, grimy, ugly) basketball against one of the NBA's dirtiest teams if they want to win tonight.
Before you ask, the answer is yes: taking the moral high ground is absolutely a strategy to distract from the many problems this game presents. Funny how a little success changes nothing - a game that looked nearly unwinnable on Wednesday remains that way despite a couple of convincing victories. Perhaps if Noah and the Bulls had found their spark two days earlier in Cleveland, and then had Saturday off, a little optimism would be in order. But with the big fella suffering from Pulmonary Fibrosis (or something), and the team on the second night of a back-to-back, on the road, minus a skilled big man in Taj, with Lu suffering from the aftereffects of a nasty bar fight, and the perpetually hobbled Hamilton (Hobbleton?) leaving Belly to start on George (as he did in George's 34 point game), I think we have reason to be concerned.
The Bulls have added two types of ultra-frustrating, remote-throwing, dog-scaring losses to their arsenal this year (which maybe isn't as many as they could have, but still): the "Did The Bus Crash Or Are These Really Our Guys" loss (see the Nuggets game), in which an elite team on a hot streak causes the Bulls to roll over and play dead like twelve little Carlos Boozers (cause he's a dog - right, you got it); and equally appalling, the "Nerdlucks Stole Our Talent" game (Irving-less Cleveland on Tuesday), in which a bunch of little twerps on a crap team run circles around the bedraggled Bulls while Rose's crunch-time fury is taken out on a plate of nachos in the luxury box. Happily this game fits neither model. Indiana is coming off a loss to the Clips, a win over the Raps and a night off, which tells us little other than that they'll be better rested than the Bulls; stranger things have happened than a tired team beating a slightly better, better rested one. Here's a couple of brief thoughts on how the Bulls can pull out a win:
As mentioned, Paul George has torn it up against Chicago this season, and since I foresee David West being an unavoidable problem, George needs to be contained. When Kirk was out in February, George Hill burned the Bulls for 22 points on 10 shots, so playing Nate extensively probably isn't the way to go - I'm hoping for heavy minutes from the Kirk-Jimmy combo. Yes, it sounds like an offensive nightmare, particularly against the best defensive team in basketball. I'm counting on 3 things.
1) Kirk keeps up his level of play. That may sound like a joke, but since The Return he's put up 12.7 points and 7 dimes per game and shot 46% from 3, and he did at least get to the line 5 times during his lousy shooting night in Philly. I leave any further commentary here to all you poets in the Game Thread.
2) Jimmy gets to the line. Five makes on five attempts last night gave him 13 points on 7 shots in 23 minutes. A similar performance tonight, with slightly increased minutes including a little relief of Lu, would justify the defensive boost he can give the team.
3) Carlos Boozer has a big game. This one's a stretch. Booz is never exactly a safe bet, and given his point totals against Indiana this season - he's averaging 12 per game - there's really no evidence to suggest he'll be a beast. Indiana has a big, physical frontcourt and that's not his specialty. But with Taj out and Noah surely exhausted, the team will need to find a way to get Boozer going, which is another reason not to play Nate extensively.
Indiana is going to be tough and physical everywhere - the way I see it, the only hope the Bulls have is to take it head-on and match toughness with toughness. Nate and Marco just aren't consistent enough to bet on against a defense this stout. Better to play tough defenders at our guard spots and create the type of scrappy, ugly defensive game that Chicago has proven capable of winning over the past three years. It might not be aesthetically pleasing, but I don't see them winning any other way. (I was, however, wrong once in 1996, so don't blame me if you take the under on total points and Marco goes for 50).
Quick Idea: I love the Taj hard hats, and wish more people wore them. With Taj out, is Jimmy our biggest Punch-clock player? I vote yes, since All-Stars don't really count as punch-clock. In this case, I think we should start a campaign to push these things on more fans, maybe even put numbers on them for different players. I swear I'm not employed by whoever makes them, I mostly just want to hear Stacey say "Make sure to bring your Jimmy Hats" on each telecast. Let's make it happen.
The Bulls are 3 games back in the division - there's still time to catch up, and a W tonight would be a pretty good way to start.
Game's at 7 on ESPN. If you're bored, head over to Indy Cornrows and troll your little hearts out. (Just kidding! Sort of!)