[Thanks to Easy Eis for today's game preview. Dunleavy is out and Butler is questionable with an illness. -yfbb]
Fresh off the dismantling of the defending champion San Antonio Spurs and a tough win on the road against the Dallas Mavericks, the Chicago Bulls looked poised to retake the reigns of their title-pursuit going into the All-Star Break. Instead, they furthered their recent enigma of a 2015 season by getting buried at home by the Heat and Hassan Whiteside's 2K-ratings-altering triple-double performance. And to make matters even more fun, the Bulls have the pleasure of trying to bounce back against a Golden State Warriors team looking to reach a 20 game home winning streak. Is there hope? There's reason to believe, but first allow me to appropriately explain exactly how good the Warriors are right now.
Let's make something clear right off the bat: This is the Warriors' world and we are all just living in it. This team isn't good. This team isn't great. This team is elite. Absurdly elite. Nineteen of their wins this season have been by fifteen or more points (the Bulls have eight by comparison). They rank 3rd in the NBA in offensive efficiency at 110.3, first in defensive efficiency at 97.1, first in true shooting percentage at 58.1%, 2nd in assist ratio at 19.7, and post a ridiculous league-best pace of 101.2 possessions per game. This team is fast and lethal by every stretch of the imagination, something they have demonstrated on numerous occasions this season. It begs to question how much Mark Jackson was holding them back in previous years now that Steve Kerr has walked into the league green as grass coaching-wise and already seems to have them on track to something special. The job Steve Kerr has done is extremely Tom Thibodeau-esque with respect to how quickly he has made an impact, and it should come as no surprise to Bulls fans, especially considering they have long-time Thibs favorite Ron Adams on staff. You could say the Warriors' rise to prominence was GarPax's fault and nobody would blame you.
Of course, one of the main reasons behind the Warriors becoming the current team to beat in the NBA has been Stephen Curry claiming the title of best point guard in the league. Curry is averaging 22.8 ppg on 49% shooting from the field and 39.6% shooting from 3, ranks fifth in the league in assists at 8.2 per game, shoots 92% from the foul line, and now can dunk with two hands. He is a relentlessly hard worker that sets the standard for how young players should approach improving their game, and he is in my opinion the frontrunner for MVP as long as the Warriors keep steam-rolling the rest of the league. Unite his play with the also-lethal shooting (and perimeter defense) of backcourt mate Klay Thompson, versatility and depth at the wing spots, a deep bench, and an effective paint-enforcer in Andrew Bogut, and you've got one hell of a contender. Look out, West.
This is the last point I want to illustrate, and I think this is what drives home that the Warriors are destined for greatness at some point if not this season. One of the oldest beliefs in sports is that defense wins championships, but the one factor that trumps this (at least in basketball) is that perfect offense will always beat perfect defense. The reason this holds up in basketball is because perfect shooting is impossible to defend against, but there are only a certain handful of players capable of achieving perfect shooting.
Think about it like this, you can separate shooting performances into five different tiers. The first tier features performances by players that are "absolute zero" cold and might find themselves doing things as bad as airballing layups (Kirk Hinrich is currently the proud headliner of this realm). The second tier is an average but effective performance from the field that usually yields 5-9 points in a quarter on a reasonable amount of attempts, which is standard for star players but thoroughly appreciated when done by players with lower expectations. The third tier is between 10-19 points in one quarter, an uncommon but pretty pretty good indicator that a player is hot and needs to receive additional defensive attention. Dwyane Wade has lived here in the 4th quarter this season, and he got here against the Bulls this past Sunday. Derrick Rose has reached this tier a couple of times this season, most recently in the first quarter against the Mavericks last week, which is at the very least encouraging for the future. The fourth tier is what I effectively refer to as "The Shrug Tier" after Michael Jordan's historic performance in the 1991-1992 NBA Finals. The Shrug Tier is anything beyond 20 points in a quarter (or 30 in a half on as few attempts as possible), which is essentially perfect individual offense no matter how you slice it. I call it "The Shrug Tier" not because Jordan's performance was the best, but because the cherry-on-top of his blistering shooting ("The Shrug" itself) perfectly demonstrates what this tier is all about. When a player is this hot from the field, it gets to a point where conventional logic and understanding is essentially suspended from reality. I often just start laughing on the rare occasion a player reaches this tier because the situation becomes so ridiculous that I expect every shot taken by the player to fall (and it usually does). LaMarcus Aldridge got here against the Bulls earlier this season. Carmelo Anthony has reached this level more than a few times. Joe Johnson once got here and briefly made his fanbase forget he is the biggest non-injury salary albatross in the league. Steph Curry is seemingly capable of reaching this level at any given moment of his life. The tier makes exceptions for performances such as Tracy McGrady's classic 13 points in 35 seconds, Reggie Miller's 8 in 9, even Paul Millsap's lesser-known 11 in 28. Before last Saturday night, I truly didn't think it could get any better.
Klay already had a reputation as one of the best shooters in the league with 19 performances of greater than 20 points since the start of last December, but nothing like this. Klay essentially stood in the middle of The Oracle, put on a Goku costume, screamed "AND THIS IS TO GO EVEN FURTHER BEYOND," and went full Super Saiyan III on the Kings. Klay discovered the fifth dimension, the Twilight Zone of shooting, a place that previously only existed in our minds. So if you're keeping score at home, the Warriors not only have a player that can shoot himself into "The Shrug Tier" at a moment's notice, but also a player that can go to places only Matthew McConaughey has been. Basketball is a team sport through and through but certain individual performances will always make or break a team with respecting to winning the important games. When a team has two players capable of achieving such ridiculous levels of perfect offense (let alone one), it makes them incredibly difficult to beat when the chips are down.
Back when the Bulls played the Warriors in December, the Splash Brothers were held to shooting percentages of 35% and 39% with a combined 3-PT shooting performance of 3/13, and yet they still combined for 43 points and the Bulls lost by ten. As impressive as Draymond Green raining in seven three pointers was (no matter how wide open they were), nothing is more impressive than the Warriors being able to drop north of 110 points despite poor shooting performances from their two aces. And that is exactly what makes the Warriors so dangerous. On their best nights, they are an unstoppable, breathtaking, bar-setting force on both ends of the court. On their worst, they are still capable of beating almost everyone.
Some things to look out for will include how Tom Thibodeau approaches defending Draymond Green, bench contributions from both teams (both likely to be high), and if Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah can bounce back from getting side-swiped by Hassan Whiteside and Chris Bosh. Getting the bigs going will be key towards slowing down the pace of the game and the Warriors' spectacular offense, and if they can also put forth a solid effort on the glass, the Bulls can keep it even closer by taking away transition and second-chance points. Mike Dunleavy and Noah are both reported as day-to-day/questionable but Dunleavy is still listed as officially out for tonight's game. At this rate, I honestly wouldn't expect to see Dunleavy again until after the Disney Trip or possibly even the All Star Break, but he could still surprise us.
It goes without saying that you shouldn't expect a win against the team with the best record in the NBA, but then again, remember who the Bulls are. They thrive on being counted out. They love busting streaks (ask Miami). They relish the underdog role when given the opportunity to play it. Through all of the criticism of losing to subpar teams at home, they still are one of the best road teams in the NBA. They were counted out of back-to-back games against quality Western Conference opponents and won both convincingly, then dropped a game to the Heat that they were expected to win handily. The Bulls pride themselves on making statement out-of-nowhere wins regardless of the roster's health status, so if nothing else I would at least expect them to remain competitive for much of the game. However, just as easily, they could fall into a shooting slump while Steph and Klay jump a few tiers above the competition and a blowout ensues. It wouldn't be the first time the Bulls have gotten blown out by a Western Conference opponent on the road this season. Should worst come to worst, I'd recommend taking this loss with a grain of salt. That being said, a win would definitely bode well for the future and isn't entirely out of the question.
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