[Thanks to Easy Eis for today's game preview. SIGN UP! -yfbb]
If you watched last night's ESPN game that featured the Chicago Bulls against the Boston Celtics (or if you saw Jahlil Okafor's own recent outing in Boston), then you are well aware of just how taxing a late night in Boston can be on Chicagoans. The Bulls entered the 4th quarter tied up with the Celtics but quickly let up a double digit advantage to permanently fall behind for the remainder of the game. This latest Bulls blunder was fueled mainly by poor interior defensive rotations, failure to consistently box out, and a general lack of effort down the stretch. Perhaps the Bulls were well aware that they had to keep some energy reserved for their home battle with the Los Angeles Clippers this evening, which they will certainly need all of considering the Clippers' continued presence as one of the NBA's premiere offensive powerhouses. Clearly, an offensive juggernaut is not the type of team that a Bulls team currently struggling to score wants to play on the latter end of a back to back, so this could get ugly.
Not much has changed from last season to this season in terms of how the Clippers play basketball, although their bench got a nice boost in 2000s-star-power with the arrivals of Josh Smith and Paul Pierce during the offseason. The Clippers rank in the top ten for every offensive team efficiency statistic except for pace of play, sit around league-average in terms of defensive efficiency (101.5 points per hundred possessions, 16th overall), and are not a great rebounding unit given their ranking in the bottom third of the NBA for all rebounding rates (cumulatively paralleling their previous season pretty consistently). Their most impressive stat may be their true shooting percentage of 54.3%, which currently ties for 7th overall despite the Clippers ranking both 20th in team 3-Pt shooting (33.1%) and 29th in team freethrow shooting (67.3%). Admittedly, the latter is both weighed down and somewhat cancelled out by DeAndre Jordan and the fact that the Clippers average the most attempts at the line per game in the NBA respectively (30.7 fta pg!!!). Point is, although the Clippers aren't as lethal from beyond the arc as they have been in previous seasons, they are still going to score with pretty great consistency and efficiency, so how can the Bulls hang around?
It starts with the boards. This game is going to be a huge indicator in terms of how the Bulls address their own rebounding issues now roughly a quarter of the way through the season. DeAndre Jordan is a menace on the glass and Blake Griffin is no slouch himself--averaging 13.4 and 8.9 rebounds per game respectively--but the rest of the Clippers' roster is scarce for board crashers. After Josh Smith at 4.2 rpg off the bench, the next highest rebounder on the team is Chris Paul. The Clippers are not a good rebounding team on either end of the floor and only have two players on their roster currently equipped to do damage in that area. If the Bulls cannot win the rebounding battle tonight against the Clippers' two-man show, it is going to raise some serious questions about Fred Hoiberg's rotation of the frontcourt and who fits into it going forward.
The other key will be the backcourt play for the Bulls. While Chris Paul will continue to do Chris Paul things, he is only one body on a court with ten players and will likely spend the game dedicated to guarding Derrick Rose. There isn't another soul on the Clippers roster that is equipped to guard Jimmy Butler with the possible exception of a 38 year old Paul Pierce, who may be able to keep up for a bit given Butler played 39 minutes last night against the Celtics. Further than that, it's hard to imagine anyone giving Butler problems, so I would expect him to look to be aggressive the entire game. Actually, I would just expect that regardless given everyone else on the roster's inability to score on a consistent basis right now. If just one other player could pick up some of the scoring slack, it would make life for the Bulls' much easier in most respects. However, until that happens we'll just have to assume it will take another herculean effort from Butler tonight to keep the Bulls in the game. For the love of Jimmy, let's hope it doesn't come to that.
This is only the second back-to-back the Bulls have played thus far this season, and the second game of their first saw them score 115 points on the Brooklyn Nets after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers the night prior. Unfortunately, tonight the Bulls will have the challenge of facing a decidedly better team than the one they lost to in Boston yesterday. One could easily argue the Bulls will win this game because all signs point to them losing it (as tends to happen), but I have personally watched this roster too many times from last season to this season to think that this game will play out in a fashion any differently than this:
The Bulls will hang around for an undetermined period of time, and then Pau Gasol will get his feelings hurt. He may get his feelings hurt when DeAndre Jordan puts him on a poster (again), he may get them hurt when Blake Griffin puts him on a poster twice (again), or he may get them hurt when he perceives an imbalance in officiating given how many more freethrows the Clippers will inevitably end up shooting than the Bulls. Regardless of how it happens, this will cause Gasol to start noticeably sagging on defense and on the boards, which will inspire the rest of the team to follow suit, which will thereby allow the Clippers to rip open a lead that Butler will spend the rest of the game single-handedly chipping away at. The Bulls will get within five or six points of tying the game a few times before the Clippers finally send them off with their fourth loss in a row. I am sincerely hoping the BaB-jinx rears its ugly head and proves me wrong, but in the immortal words of Ramona Shelburne, "Clippers gon' clip."
Tip is at 8:00 ET on TNT, props if you can unearth who tonight's color commentary tandem is. And Mike Dunleavy is still out.