[Thanks to paddyfairview for today's game preview -yfbb]
Big one tonight, folks. Golden State, the hottest team in the NBA, rolls into the UC sporting an 11-game win streak. The Bulls are sporting a healthy one-game streak of their own after Tuesday's double-overtime Kurtastrophe, and more importantly, are inching closer to full strength: Taj Gibson was upgraded to "Questionable" for tonight's game, as was the Artist Formerly Known as Dougie McBuckets. Rose is progressing along his return-to-form arc, having successfully completed a back-to-back without spontaneously combusting, and Noah will hopefully break a two-game streak of scaring the crap out of everyone in the Greater Chicagoland Area by writhing on the hardwood clutching his ankle. (Technically he's "Questionable" as well, though he's expected to play - see above link.)
"Statement games" may be bullshit, but there are legitimate tests for contending teams scattered throughout the season. This should be one for both squads. Unless you count the Clippers (I don't) or Dallas (I'm on the fence), the Bulls haven't yet had a crack at a true Western Conference titan. The Warriors, on the other hand, have yet to put their streak on the line versus any team approaching contender status. The Bulls will be easily their best opponent since their last loss, a Nov. 11th defeat vs. San Antonio. In that time they've beat Orlando twice and Charlotte twice, plus Brooklyn, Carlos Boozer's Lakers, Utah, OKC minus its two playmakers, Miami with a Deng'd-up Lu, Detroit and New Orleans. I feel safe saying there are no contenders, and probably few playoff teams (Miami, Charlotte maybe, OKC maybe) in that group.
Nevertheless, eleven consecutive wins is impressive, and with the Bulls home and rested after the dreaded Circus Trip, this should be a fun one to watch. Let's look at the matchups:
PG: Derrick Rose vs. Stephen Curry
We've all had a compulsive desire to call Rose the best point guard in the NBA since the moment he stepped onto the court (or at least the moment he dropped 36 on the Celtics in his playoff debut). But with his iffy night-to-night production, and given that Steph Curry has spent the past month looking like he's stuck in that sweet spot three beers in where you can't lose at Atomic Double Shoot-Out, I'm sorry, but I have to do it: EDGE WARRIORS.
SG: Klay Thompson vs. Jimmy Butler
Here, weirdly, is tonight's real marquee matchup. Thompson just got 70+ million and had been touted as the Star Two-Guard of the Future until Jimmy jumped (and viciously oop'd) into the conversation. As the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Month (not to mention the reigning "Holy Fuck, Where's the Remote, Rewind That" player of the month) Jimmy has nothing to prove. But it sure would be nice to see him come out of this with a superior line. I think he can do it: EDGE BULLS.
SF: Mike Dunleavy vs. Harrison Barnes
Mike D. has been riding across the land kicking up sand, but holy resurgence, Batman: Barnes, once widely considered a disappointment, is now starting over former All-Star Andre Iguodala, posting a TS% of 61.4, and an Offensive Rating of 123 vs. a Defensive Rating of 101 (!). Is he playing in a wide-open offense next to ace shooters, and does Golden State have a surprisingly-excellent defense? Yes, and yes. But still, those are some pretty numbers. EDGE WARRIORS.
PF: Pau Gasol vs. Draymond Green
How in the hell did the Bulls not draft Draymond Green? He was a coach's favorite at Michigan State, a hard-hat wearing, lunch-pail toting, clock-punching, dirty-job-doing underrated/overlooked worm on a hook for the two-headed barracuda that is GarPax. He couldn't have been a more obvious Bulls pick if he had "I Love Defense" tattooed on his forehead. Anyway, he's playing well in place of David Lee (who was ruled out for this game a few days ago) and is apparently the "heart and soul" of the Warriors. He's also five inches shorter and twenty-five pounds (plus two championship rings) lighter than Pau Gasol, who is so exactly what Carlos Boozer was supposed to be four years ago that it makes me hate Boozer all over again. EDGE BULLS.
C: Joakim Noah vs. Andrew Bogut
Remember those Battletech toys from the 90s? Big hulking Goliaths, but if you hit 'em in the right spot, their legs would fall off? You get where I'm going. It's great to have them both (reasonably, in Noah's case) healthy, and while Andrew Bogut anchors the Warriors top-ranked defense, Noah is still the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. The Bulls are home, everyone's rested, and this is a titanic team on a hot streak. If I know anything about Joakim Noah, he's going to bust his butt to fill up the box score tonight. I can't wait. EDGE BULLS.
COACH: Thibs vs. This Guy
Hey look, it's our old pal Steve Kerr. All we heard last year was that he was going to the Knicks to run the Triangle with Phil, but then things took a turn - Mark Jackson (Warning: totally unfair shot ahead), who remained married after being blackmailed by a stripper, was fired after taking the Dubs seven games into the second round of the brutal WC playoffs. What a year. Kerr unsurprisingly preferred a potential title contender to the Melo + spare parts Knicks, and so far the results have been excellent. He's a legitimate COY candidate, particularly since the voters love new guys. But can the smiling SoCal boy really outcoach the Mad ScienThibs? For my money, the answer is:
Andre Iguodala and Taj Gibson (let's optimistically assume he plays) are two starting-caliber talents relegated to the bench on stacked rosters. Their career trajectories have been going in opposite directions, though, so let's give the Bulls the edge here. Aaron Brooks and Shaun Livingston also have some things in common, as they are both in the process of resuscitating once-promising careers. They have seven inches of height difference, which should make things interesting if they're tasked with guarding one another. The Warriors have been going small on the second unit, playing Marreese Speights as the back-up center, The Bulls have been giving burn to Niko with other guys injured, and while he looks great on offense, I worry about him against a small, quick, spread-out Golden State squad. Every time Stacey says "Freeze it!" after an angry Thibs timeout, you can spot Mirotic with his sextant and sea charts out, trying to recalculate his position. Then we have to factor in Snell and possibly McDermott, both of whom shoot like the bad guys in a Die Hard movie. If Gibson goes, let's call it EDGE BULLS. If not, it's probably EDGE WARRIORS
Should be a hell of a game. It's national, 7pm on NBA TV. Shit talking goes here: Golden State Of Mind
Apparently that's the Golden Gate Bridge in the Warriors' logo, but tonight it's gonna make like the Tacoma Narrows: