[Thanks to Alex for today's game preview -yfbb]
Over the past week, your Chicago Bulls (13-8) swung from the Eastern Conference's 2-seed all the way down to the 8-seed, then hit the 5-seed, and are now not-so-firmly ensconced at the 3-seed. They've found all kinds of ways to either lose or just barely win games they should have had no problem claiming, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat by the slimmest of margins. They are more like an extreme, warped Thibs-ball variation than anything ISU fans experienced last year: their defense is statistically great (their 99.8 defensive rating is the 2nd best in the league -- though if you actually sit down with the games, you'll be pretty damn frustrated by their European front court members' efforts on that end of things), their offense statistically not-so-great (their 99.2 offensive rankings only puts them ahead of tonight's opponent and the Lakers, a.k.a. the two worst teams in the NBA). Tonight, this wildly erratic squad hosts the Philadelphia 76ers, and we can only hope that the margin of victory will not be nearly as slight as it has been in the past.
The Bulls' average point differential (the difference between points scored and points allowed) is +0.6, slotting them into a 4-way tie for 12th best in the league. Their last 5 games have been determined by 6 points or less, and the only two of their last 10 games to featured double-digit scoring differential were both 12-point losses (one to a good team, the Pacers, the other to... the Denver Nuggets). That 13-8 record is good for 3rd in the Eastern Conference, sure -- but they're also a few losses away from being out of the playoff picture entirely (two teams with winning records in the East, Atlanta and Orlando, are on the outside looking in). Chicago is trying to forget an ugly recent 3-game losing streak, but happily will be catching a second consecutive team on the second night of a back-to-back. On Saturday night, we were able to eke out an unconvincing 83-80 victory against an underachieving Pelicans squad who was on the second night of their own back-to-back.
The Philadelphia 76ers are in the midst of a fourth consecutive tank-a-pa-looza season. It's gotten so awful that Adam Silver pressured Philly's ownership to hire Jerry Colangelo as chairman of basketball operations, ostensibly a "consultant" to GM Sam Hinkie (but, you know, possibly his boss in actual practice), and now there's chatter of Mike D'Antoni being added to Brett Brown's coaching staff (this after Brown's own contract was recently extended). Who can blame them for wanting to disrupt "The Process," Hinkie's shameless strategy to be as bad as possible for as long as possible in an effort to net a transcendent star through the draft? He's whiffed (it appears) in all three of his drafts to this point, but he's had some decent lottery finds (Michael Carer-Williams, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor) outside of the top 2. How many of those decent finds will start for winning squads (MCW can't even start for a significantly better team in the Milwaukee Bucks; Noel can't shoot beyond three feet; Okafor hates defending and is showing early signs of being a serious head case) remains an open question. And let's not even get started on Joel Embiid, who was drafted two seasons ago and will now be sitting out his second straight NBA season. This is a very bad team, who may be missing their second-best player after a left corneal injury suffered last night (he flew with the team but Brown was non-committal as far as his suiting up). So that might just leave Okafor (turning 20 tomorrow) as Philly's one NBA-level starter, averaging 17.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per contest. I'm not saying Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, Tony Wroten, and, I guess, TJ McConnell can't be rotation players on a good NBA team (I'm out on Sauce Castillo, sorry), but the only sure-fire starters on that roster are Okafor and Noel.
The Sixers have only won a single game in 25 tries. They've dropped the last 6 in a row. Let's not let tonight be that second W, eh? Go... Bulls?
Prognosis: Bulls win by 6, after being up by 16 at the start of the 4th.
Tip: 7 p.m. CST, broadcasting on Comcast Sports Net, ESPN AM-1000 on the radio.
-I am not alone in saying that Joakim Noah deserves more run. Honestly I think he should be our starter, but that Pau Gasol would not be much of a company man were Hoiberg to move him to the bench. JoNo is our most important front court player, and when he gets a rhythm going he can really make an impact on both ends of the floor, even despite his awful shooting of late. Can we please trade Pau and Snell or McBuckets for some wing and/or off-guard depth? Pau sounds like he's gone after this season. He's openly declared that he'll be opting out of the last year of his current deal with the Bulls, and seems set on getting more money than the Bulls are probably interested in giving him. Trick-or-Treat Tony has been frustrating everybody lately, but the kid can shoot. McDermott's ceiling is probably lower, in that he has zero athleticism and will never be fast enough to be a good defender -- BUT man oh man this kid can shoot, too. It'd be great to find a wing upgrade (Courtney Lee? Kent Bazemore?) or a back-up PG upgrade somewhere (Lou Williams? Jamal Crawford?).
-Okay, WHAT IN THE SAND HECK IS GOING ON WITH KIRK HINRICH?? He's been.. solid this year! He was the Bulls' second-best back court player when we lost to the Dubs, and he's been shooting and defending pretty well for a back-up. It's quite helpful that he's only playing 17.4 minutes a game, I'm sure that's a big part of it. He's proven to be a much, much more efficient shooter this year than he has in (recent) seasons past. The Captain is also posting his best per-36 scoring numbers since Derrick Rose's rookie season (12.5 points per 36 minutes), shooting 90.9% from the free throw (and in 36 minutes would be getting there 1.9 times a game, more than at any point since the 2009-10 season), 45.5% from the field (which would be his best field goal percentage ever), and... 52.4% from beyond the arc. I KNOW! Granted, he's doing this over a merciful 1.8 3-point attempts per game (translating to 3.7 over 36 minutes). Anyway. I am now OK with Kirk, so long as the Bulls keep him within these reduced minutes restrictions.
-I don't want to talk about D-Rose. He's a mystery wrapped inside an enigma. I'm just glad he has the old-school haircut back. I also don't want to talk about Aaron Brooks having one good 4th quarter. I DON'T TRUST THE SAMPLE SIZE, THUGS.
-Look, Jimmy is clearly hurt. He's clearly been playing hurt for a hot minute with that "heel" issue. So... maaaaybe we should rest him against a team so bad the NBA had to step in to improve them? Just a thought. Call me crazy.