[Thanks to paddyfairview for today's game preview. It's a new season and that means new chances to sign up. -yfbb]
I've been through about four drafts of this preview, because every time I had an angle figured out, Ricky or someone would post a brilliant article about it five goddamned seconds after I finished writing. So f#@$ it, I'm just gonna tell you a story:
Once upon a time in a land called Chicago, there lived a king named Derrick.
Now, King Derrick was famed far and wide for his humble heart and bitchin' ass fast break dunks. Under his rule, the whole Chicagoland area basked in a glory not known since the days of King Michael. His castle, the United Center, provided shelter from roving bands of basketball barbarians and the occasional attack by the Bastard Prince Rondo (pictured here). Even amid rumors that the dark wizard Pat Riley was gathering an invincible army in faraway South Beach, Chicagoans were confident* that King Derrick could lead his troops to victory.
War broke out, and the battles were hard fought, but in the end Miami came away victorious and King Derrick returned to Chicago to regroup for another campaign. But before he could seek revenge, tragedy struck. A stray arrow, possibly fired by Gonzalo Le Batard, hit Derrick in the ACL and incapacitated him. His army crumbled; a ragged band of Philadelphians ousted them from the playoffs and The Evil Viziers running the United Center disbanded the Bench Platoon in order to save gold for their shitty baseball team.
"Oh no," shouted the drunken peasants. "Who will save us from the Evil Dicks From Miami?" In their desperation, they turned first to Prince Rondo, and then to another army being formed in the cornfields east of Chicago by returned-from-the-dead basketball hero Larry the Clear.
But all was for naught. The Evil Dicks conquered everyone and a period of darkness fell over the land. The bards sang only of Miami, and the peasants began to lose hope.
"Where is King Derrick?" they cried. "Why hasn't he returned to save us? Must we listen to these scribes fellate Miami for eternity? Bring back the Bench Mob! Burn Thibs at the stake! Also, get a trampoline, JBJ looks like he's going to jump."
Unbeknownst to most, King Derrick had traveled to a distant hive of scum and villainy** called Los Angeles, chasing rumors of a wrinkled old crack-muppet in a swamp who could teach him to control things with his mind. But Pat Riley was in Miami, so he worked on his three ball instead.
Then, as summer turned to fall and the new campaign approached, the newly strengthened King Derrick made his way back across the land, stopping only to pull Kirk Hinrich out of a well and assemble his team: Thibs, High Wizard of Defense! Lieutenant Deng, Relentless Field Commander! Khal Joakim, terror of the skies and open court! And new hero Jimmy Buckets, the Chosen Two Guard of legend!
But wait! Larry the Clear and his Children of the Corn had strengthened their army as well, and were prepared to lay claim to the Central Division! King Derrick saw that a long journey lay ahead, with many obstacles in between him and his goal of disrupting the Threepeat and kicking LeBron in the nuts...beginning with a tough contest against the ascendant Pacers in Indianapolis, to be known forever after as the Battle of BFE...
*[Hey, it's a fairy tale.]
**[Yep, we're on Star Wars now]
That get you up to speed? Not included, of course, was the bit about the first three games being a nightmare and Derrick looking rustier than Craig Ferguson's trombone. But enough of that. As much as the stats favor Indy tonight, I can't help but agree with King Derrick – this isn't a rivalry. The Pacers are like Eli Manning – no matter how much they win, they'll always be the little brother. As Ricky pointed out, they even play like the Bulls. We might get hung by our ankles and robbed of our lunch money tonight, but the Indy Persecution Complex will get in their heads when it counts, I promise you
Let's do the matchups:
POINT GUARD: Derrick Rose vs. George Hill OR CJ Watson (Hill is a game-time decision, sore hip)
CJ WATSON REVENGE GAME! CJ isn't a point guard; he's a diminutive gunner with a lot of hustle (there, I said it). We have a tendency to retroactively overrate the Bench Mob, which was prone to several (thousands of) useless passes around the perimeter on each offensive possession, largely because of CJ's inability to get within 15 feet of the basket in the halfcourt. That's not as big of a minus in Indy, where they have scorers at other positions in the first and second units. George Hill isn't exactly an assist machine either (he averaged 4.7 in 34.5 mpg last year), but it doesn't hurt them much because they can run things through the post or Paul George. And both PGs can bang home threes (CJ hit 41% last year!). I'll be optimistic about Derrick and say EDGE BULLS.
SHOOTING GUARD: Jimmy Blindside Buckets Butler vs. Paul George
When he's not dressing like your grandmother's living room, George is busy scoring points, grabbing rebounds, and generally being a two-way terror. He's farther along his star arc than Jimmy (...may ever be, I know, but shut up shut up shut up), but watching these two play against each other all year is going to be fun. I am fully behind a Buckets-George rivalry. We'll need an insulting nickname, so get to work (Nana George?) EDGE PACERS, but still.
SMALL FORWARD: Luol Deng vs. Lance Stephenson
Have you seen Lance's chick? She has, like, flaming red died hair and it's awesome. I have nothing else to say about him. Colonel Clank (copyright somebody, claim it if it's yours) is shooting 8.3% from downtown. Eight. Point. Three. I predict a don't-call-it-a-comeback from Lu. EDGE BULLS
POWER FORWARD: Carlos "Hate Me Now" Boozer vs. David West
22.3 ppg, 65.9 eFG%. What son, what! Carlos sucks against dominant frontlines, that's what. He's due for a falloff. Did you ever hear this stuff about West boxing, and just generally being a menace before Indy infected him with their thuggery? (Sorry to sound like George Bush Sr. but it's true). I mean, he was always tough, but damn. EDGE PACERS
CENTER: Joakim Noah vs. Roy Hibbert
Back when Hibbert was at Georgetown, I remember thinking, "He'll be a monster when he learns to play." Problem is, the thought still occurs once in a while. He can beat up on the Heat, because he's a talented athlete and their frontline looks like the police lineup in an arson investigation. But against Jo, who I assume will have benefited greatly from 3 days off, not so much. EDGE BULLS
The Pacers undoubtedly got better, while the jury's still out on the Bulls. Indiana added CJ, who whatever we think about him can't be worse than D.J. Augustin was last year. Granger's out, but they picked up Luis Scola to score off the bench. Scola has decided to grow some facial hair, which is a positive development in the sense that it makes him look less like a female tennis player. Indy also became the latest team to take advantage of what Amare's contract is doing to NY's cap situation, swooping in to give Knick fan-favorite and three point specialist Brittney Griner a nice deal. No baskets yet and very little burn, but she'll heat up. As for the Bulls, how good does Taj look on offense? He's not quite burning the house down, but he looks greatly improved to my eyes. I'm going to say EDGE BULLS here, because I want them to win.
COACH: Thibs. vs. This Guy
LENS CRAFTERS DESIGNATED PLAYER THAN NEIL FUNK SHITS ON ALL GAME: Hmm...I'm going with CJ, because Neil's vindictive like that. But wait, it's on ESPN! Rejoice!
Alright, I'm out. If this was the dorkiest game preview of all time, blame Ricky for psychically stealing my ideas. And go over here: Indy Cornrows and troll your little hearts out. Game's at 6 on CSN or ESPN.