[Thanks to plywooded for today's game preview. There are several more openings over the next couple of weeks if you're interested. -yfbb]
The Pelicans are one of several teams in the NBA this year that, for Bulls fans, have to feel like kindred spirits due to some pretty insane stuff happening to them. After coming into the season with what I think were warranted playoff hopes, they've taken some pretty big blows and now sit 12th in the Western Conference at 19-26. The yin to our yeng (okay, I just always wanted to make that joke), their January was basically the opposite of ours (they went 5-11, our Bulls 11-4) and also a window into the torture that is being a struggling team in the Western conference. After losing Ryan Anderson to a cervical stinger on January 3rd in a narrow win over the Celtics, they proceeded to lose 8 straight games in what might be the worst coincidence of injuries and immediately having to play against really tough teams that an NBA team has dealt with this season. First, their fun Eastern jaunt took a turn for the ominous when they had to face the contender contingent of the conference in consecutive contests against Indiana and Miami. Then things got really scary when they had to fly home and play against the Wizards (aka the runaway top team in the conference when playoff seeding is adjusted to reflect only winning percentage vs. the Bulls this season) the very next day - a game during which Jrue Holiday went down with a stress fracture, for which he is still considered out indefinitely. Their next five games were against four playoff seeded teams from their own conference, and in the midst they also lost Jason Smith to knee damage which required surgery. Yeesh. I'd rehash everything we've gone through over here to complete the emotional parallel, but I a) don't want to sob while at work and b) it's kind of a shallow parallel. Basically, injuries stink and I'd support legislation that prohibited them from occurring as long as no one tacked on like, an "All public water fountains will now dispense acrid smoke" rider. The Pelicans did win four of their final six games of the month, with three of those wins coming against some of the strugglingest teams in the East, appropriately.
It was just under two months ago these teams last met in a triple OT Zipper ride which the Pelicans took, but there are more than a handful of players (I mean, these are big guys! How many can you expect to hold, eh??) we will and won't be seeing tonight that we did/didn't back on December 2nd . On our end, we've since lost one of our best and most beloved players in the trade of Luol Deng to Cleveland, but we've also gained the amazing surprise of DJ Augustin and seen the return of our favorite passing lane picnic-basket-filled-with-a-basketball thief Jimmy Butler, who's just turned in his first pair of consecutive games shooting over 40% since way back in mid November when he sustained the turf toe injury during a game that Derrick started alongside him before going out for the season just four days later (I counted five things in that admittedly overlong sentence that would have made me go "AWGHGH" for a variety of reasons in October). Jo has really hit his stride and is continuing what is possibly the best stretch of his career so far, and Taj is still awesome and having the best all-around season of his career. Mike James is gone as of today, and Marquis Teague has been traded - but Teague literally played 6 seconds in the last meeting.
On the Pelicans' side, Anthony Davis (who did not play on December 2nd) will return to the court after missing a game because of his dislocated left index finger, and I for one am excited to watch the matchup against our guys. Davis, by the way, has just been awesome this year and he comes into tonight having blocked FIFTEEN shots over the course of his last two active games. Whoa. All three of their injured fellas mentioned earlier will obviously be out, and they'll miss Anderson and Holiday in particular. With all the injuries, we should see Brian Roberts for a good chunk longer at the point, Alexis Ajinca and Greg Stiemsma getting some minutes in the front court (along with rookie Jeff Withey... I'm not super in tune with what kind of minutes distribution to expect between these three), as well as appearances from Austin Rivers and Darius Miller.
As for predictions: I don't predict ‘em these days. I just watch ‘em.
7pm game. Go Bulls.