[Thanks to Alex for today's game preview -yfbb]
Tonight, your PLAYOFF-BOUND Chicago Bulls kick off a back-to-back home-and-home against one of the most egregiously tanking teams (two words for you: Keith. Bogans.) in the Eastern Conference -- a conference which, let's just say, isn't lacking for egregiously tanking teams at all, the Boston Celtics, at the TD Garden in Beantown. Translation: finally this unnecessarily tight 7-man rotation (even in the playoffs it should be at least 8, let's hope Thibs doesn't run anybody too ragged) can get a breather in the fourth quarter!
Yes, I know the offensively-challenged Bulls have developed kind of a bad habit of playing down to their competition some nights (like, oh, Philly and Sacramento), but, come on, they're playing the Boston Celtics. This team is the dregs of the NBA, on purpose. They've lost 3 in a row and 8 of their last 9 contests overall. We're going to win both games, and we're going to straight-up murder them in at least one. My hunch is it'll be the second game because a certain All-Star point guard doesn't play on the second night of back-to-backs. Want to know how many .500+ teams we're playing over the rest of the regular season? I thought you would. The answer is 2, and those teams (Minny and Washington), while they may trounce us on the offensive end (we are currently last in the NBA in points scored per game at 92.8) -- especially when Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are really clicking -- do not scare me as a Bulls fan. The chances of our running the table and nabbing 50 wins this year are still fairly slim, but just know that such a possibility is in play. Having three remaining back-to-back games may inhibit the probability of this going down to an extent, but hey, you know, still.
PG - Rajon Rondo - Rondo's acclimation into the role of Top Dog on the Celtics has no doubt been tough in a team culture that promotes losing by its very design. He's an exciting, dynamic player, but his game is not without its glaring flaws: he's a bit of a gambler on defense and he still can't shoot mid-range jumpers. Averaging a minuscule 32.6 minutes per game, the stat sheet for the 6'1" Kentucky product reads very much like his career averages: 11.3 ppg (career: 11.4), 9.4 apg (career: 8.4), and 5.1 boards (career: 5.6); all are a bit down from last year, but per 36 minutes he's basically putting up the same numbers he did last year in the same category.
SG - Avery Bradley - Bradley is a very interesting case, because he's a restricted free agent with one highly marketable skill: his defense against both guard positions. At 6'2", Bradley really lacks the size to be a permanent starting 2 guard, and you have to figure he's ripe for a demotion to 14.5 points (on 13.6 field goals a game), 3.8 rebonds, and 1.3 assists per game, plus shooting a solid 37.4% from deep. I'm a little surprised Jerryd Bayless hasn't stolen the starting 2-spot from Bradley since his arrival in the Courtney Lee trade earlier this season.
SF - Jeff Green - Jeff Green is such a head-scratcher -- he has all the tools to be a very, very good offensive player, but he just hasn't been able to sustain any kind of shooting rhythm in his various stops in the NBA. The big question about Green is really -- what is he? At 6'9" and 235 pounds, Green's "multifaceted" game has left him stuck as a tweener at the 3 and the 4, somebody with the size and strength to give most 4's a lot of trouble, but who really doesn't get you much in the way of rim protection or getting second chance points with work on the glass. Brad Stevens has put him in a position to succeed on this Celts team, giving him a career-high-in-Boston 34.1 minutes per game and the green light to shoot. Green is only averaging 16.8 points, sort of a low number considering the 14.2 field goal attempts he shoots per game (he's only shooing 41.2% from the field, a bit of a bummer considering how athletic he is and how he should be able to break ankles when he gets guarded by 4's on switches or in smaller line-ups).
PF - Brandon Bass - Meh.
C - Mr. Kim Kardashian.. er, Kris Humphries - Just... this. Having the nonathletic 6'9" Humphries jumping center against Joakim Noah is just going to be funny. Not that Humphries isn't a solid Fake Tough Guy, but he's going to get slaughtered around the paint tonight by a legit triple-double-threat. Humphries is averaging 8.4 points and gobbling up 5.5 rebounds a night this year, so... I'M SHAKIN' IN MAH BOOTS. Olynyk, by the way, that darn Canadian, is Humphries's probable successor at the 5 next year (Humphries is basically just a big body on an expiring contract). The rookie has really been okay in a reserve role, averaging 7.7 points and 5 rebounds per in just 19.6 minutes of run. Not exactly sure where Olynyk's ceiling is, but early returns suggest that he was a steal with the 13th pick in the 2013 draft. Anyway, though, he's still very raw, and though he has the shooting range to draw Noah out of the paint, I think playing against a stud like JoNo will earn both Olynyk and Humphries some offensive charge calls (fuck it, I'm calling it now -- Humphries fouls out tonight).
The Bulls' Starting 5: Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah.
Overall Performance Outlook: Bulls by 12. Noah should obliterate Humphries/Olynyk, Taj is considerably quicker than Brandon Bass and plays closer to the basket, and their streakiest shooter, Green, is going to have a heck of a lot of trouble getting too many good looks while he's being draped by Jimmy Butler. Would still be nice for the bench to be expanded a bit in meaningful minutes, but I think we should have plenty of Jimmer Time and Nazr Mohammed's YMC Old Man Game tonight.
Random Thoughts: This is a miserable Celtics team full of underachieving draft picks (paging Jeff Green), role-playing veterans playing way too many minutes (or, in one case, way too few), and All-NBA bad-ass Rajon Rondo. If I'm Boston, I would not sign-and-trade Rondo this summer, I don't care if he is going to be 29 midway through next season and has already had a major knee surgery. Danny Ainge has a lot of tasty draft picks coming up, which he can either turn into a second All-Star via said trade route, or try to hit on as many as possible. The further we get into the tourney this year, the more I think this is draft is a crap-shoot.
Tip at 6:00 PM CST/7 EST on WGN TV/ESPN-AM 1000/WRTO 1200.