Let's be honest with ourselves: we should have seen Wednesday coming. Three wins despite poor play, culminating in a big fourth quarter against Houston, followed by days off on either side of a lottery-team matchup at home? With a playoff rematch at Washington looming? That's one whopper of a trap game. Sure, you can look at the ongoing trends, like Derrick Rose's 30.0 eFG% for January, but why do that when you can pass the whole thing off as a schedule loss, and get ready for Friday Night Ball Night?
And as far as January ball goes, there's some stakes for this one. Only a half-game separates Chicago from both Washington and Toronto, and with Atlanta looking like world-beaters, it seems likely that one of the former three will be squaring off against LeBron in the first round come April. [Debate continues as to how good the Cavs are post-trades, but LeBron's still out and they're 8.5 games back in the East, so for now they look like a 4-5 seed.] Tonight, the Bulls can widen their advantage while sticking it to Washington in Washington for the second consecutive time, exacting further revenge for those embarrassing 2014 playoff losses.
Speaking of which, 2014 Playoff Hero Mike Dunleavy is out tonight, still fighting with that bum right ankle, while 2014 Playoff Turdbomb Kirk Hinrich is back after missing the December 23rd tilt. Putting Dun on Paul Pierce* was going to be bad enough, but now it looks like Thibs will have Hinrich guarding either Pierce or Bradley Beal, so you know, pack a box of tissues. Can Jimmy Butler guard two people at once?
[*Pierce is technically day-to-day after sitting out Wednesday for rest]
The Wizards are winners of two in a row, but are heading into a tough weekend with the Bulls tonight and Atlanta on Sunday, followed by San Antonio next Tuesday and a rematch at the UC on Wednesday - so you know they'll want the win on their home floor. With the tough wing matchups and the way their bigs have given even a healthier Noah difficulties, this is sure to be a tough one. Let's look at the matchups:
PG: Derrick Rose vs. John Wall
First in the line of media-anointed Rose successors, Wall is always someone we like to see our guy annihilate. Derrick is simply the bigger talent when healthy and engaged, but tonight we find him a) at some variable point on his perpetual return-to-form arc, and b) colder than a witch's tit in a brass bra from basically everywhere on the floor. And considering he'll have to chase Wall around on defense all night, I don't see those hideous PUJIT threes going by the wayside just yet. Still, he clearly outplayed Wall in crunch time last game, and that combined with my thoroughly unreasonable pro-Chicago bias is enough to say EDGE BULLS.
SG: Kirk Hinrich vs. Bradley Beal
Ugh, even on paper that looks brutal. Is it possible E'Twaun Moore could start? EDGE WIZARDS.
SF: Jimmy Butler vs. Paul Pierce
I don't like Paul Pierce, you don't like Paul Pierce. But he's having a decent season, shooting just over 50% from 2 and 38% from 3, scoring over 17 points per 36 and posting a PER of 16.9. Solid. Jimmy Butler? He's not having a decent season, or a solid season, or even a really good season. He's having a Batman season. It doesn't matter if you're packing PP's pull-up jumper and savvy veteran ref-bitching skills: crime is not safe in Gotham while the cowl is on the prowl. EDGE BULLS.
PF: Pau Gasol vs. Nene
Nene's a weird player, the sort of guy who never seems like he's coming close to fulfilling his potential even when he's racking up numbers. Then he goes and makes a turn style out of the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in the playoffs. He's big and strong, and a pain in the ass, and since he's got range he'll probably have Noah guarding him again. But Pau had been on fire before the Utah debacle, so I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt on this one. He's having an All-Star season, and tonight would be a great time to underline his case. EDGE BULLS.
C: Joakim Noah vs. Marcin Gortat
I don't know if I've ever done the matchups for a Bulls game and not given the edge at center to Joakim Noah. But man does he look bad this season. I know, and by know I mean hope, that he's working himself into playoff shape. In quiet moments before sleep I fear that this knee injury is going to linger, that it's the price to be paid for his absolutely goddamn noble refusal to roll over after the heinous Deng trade last year and tank for the draft, instead deciding to carry an entire team on his back for three months. He plays with his heart, he plays for the paper salesman and every other idiot like you and me that lives and dies with the fortunes of a basketball team we don't play for, and I fucking love him for it. And so it's out of love that I pull this double-voodoo reverse jinx and say EDGE WIZARDS.
Bench: Bench Mob 2.0 vs. Washington Pu-Pu Platter
Honestly there's not a lot going on here for Washington outside of Professor Andre Miller. DeJuan Blair has been buried in the depth chart, Kris Humphries gets rebounds and tired Kardashian jokes, and Bulls alumni Rasual Butler and Drew Gooden continue to be Mostly Harmless. (Hey, here's an interesting tidbit. Blog: EDGE BULLS.) On the other hand, Nikola Mirotic is the reigning EC Rookie of the Month, presumably on account of his habit of making some absolutely bananas 3-pointers. Also: Taj. EDGE BULLS.
Coach: Thibs vs. Randy Wittman
Lens Crafters Designated Player that Neil Funk Shits On All Game:
There's a few options here, and I'm already dreading the inevitable stupid bullshit about HEY WAIT THIS GAME IS ON ESPN THANK YOU JESUS. I have a weird feeling Funk's going to go after Pierce tonight, but I won't be listening.
Game's at 7, talk shit here, and pass the popcorn cause it's Ball Night in America. See Red!!