[Thanks to fleng2 for today's game preview -yfbb]
6:00 PM CT / 7:00 PM ET / 4:00 PM PT | ESPN | UNITED CENTER, CHICAGO
The Memphis Grizzlies lumber into town for an old-school, defensive duel with the en fuego Chicago Bulls. Both teams can see a lot of themselves in the other; they both play at a slow pace, run a balanced team offense, have almost identical records, and are led by their Swiss Army knife centers. Marc Gasol is the reigning DPOY, and Noah is receiving lots of national love for that award and borderline consideration for the MVP. (He's playing tonight! Tis' but a scratch.)
After this game, the Bulls begin the path through contender's row, which has the Bulls playing the Heat, Spurs, Rockets, Thunder, Pacers (2x) and Blazers in the next 10. Thibs will tell you differently, but the month of March would be a grueling stretch for any team. It would be positively Herculean for this Bulls team to continue winning like it has. We are favored tonight, and we need to hoard as many of these wins in March as we can.
The Grizzlies have had a season of ups and downs. They have a well-respected front office, which includes John Hollinger (the father of PER). In the off-season, they fired their Coach of the Year candidate, Lionel Hollins, and replaced him with Dave Joerger. They are also the first case-study of next year's top MIT Sloan Conference paper, "Addition by Subtraction: Why Trading Rudy Gay Suddenly Makes Your Team Better". They filled their need for outside shooters by bringing back Mike Miller.
Memphis is only one year removed from a Western Conference finals appearance, but they have been very under the radar. Partially because they beat a Westbrook-less Thunder team, partially because the Spurs blew them out in four games and partially because they find themselves on the outside of the playoffs.
Much of that can be attributed to their best player missing 23 games this year. Given how incredibly cutthroat the West is, they probably have to end the year with a run similar to their 17-5 stretch earlier this year. Rest assured though, if they scrape into the playoffs, they will be a team that no one wants to face. Although that's a sentence I could probably type about almost any Western conference team.
The last time these two teams met, the Bulls won 95-91 against a Gasol-less Grizzlies team. Jimmy had his best game of the season with 26 points, carrying the offense with Boozer, who had 21 points.
Look for the Bulls to lock down the Grizzlies offense by having Kirk, Noah and Taj zero in on Mike Conley, Gasol and Z-Bo (if he plays, he's day-to-day with the flu). And look for Memphis to try to emulate the Nets gameplan and try to bottle up Noah. Expect to see a rugged game with a good amount of turnovers and a score in the high-80s, low-90s. I doubt the Grizzlies allow Noah to rack up another triple double, but if the Bulls shoot a decent percentage from deep and play the sort of defense we've grown accustomed to seeing, they should win.
But we all know the most important question for tonight: can Mike Abdul Jabbar Dunleavy extend his sky-hook streak to two?
BULLS PROJECTED STARTERS
F - Dunleavy
F - Boozer
C - Noah
G - Butler
G - Hinrich
Bench - Gibson, Mohammed, Augustin, Snell, Murphy, Shengalia, Fredette
GRIZZLIES PROJECTED STARTERS
F - Tayshaun Prince
F - Zach Randolph
C - Marc Gasol
G - Courtney Lee
G - Mike Conley
Bench - Beno Udrih, Mike Miller, James Johnson aka "Bloodsport", Ed Davis, Kosta Koufos, Nick Calathes, Tony Allen, Jon Leuer