After administering a thorough-as-fuck decimation of the Los Angeles Clippers' lamer roommates on Thursday, the Chicago Bulls look for lighting to strike twice in the City of Angels during a mid-day ABC bout this afternoon. BUT WILL IT?
Chicago looked great against a horrible team, so it could be construed as a bit of a false-positive. Roy Hibbert is no longer All-Star Roy Hibbert, and Kobe Bryant is at least three years past really deserving All-Star inclusion (let alone All-Star starter inclusion). The only 2010 NBA champ who deserves All-Star notice was the gangly Spaniard who racked up 21 points, 12 boards and 7 dimes on Thursday. I wouldn't say he was robbed this year, since he can be a bit of an empty-calorie stat stuffer, BUT... he's still pretty damn good (hey, at least fellow pseudo-empty-calorie big K-Love was also snubbed).
The Bulls (26-19, 3rd in the East) will see the Clippers (31-16, including being 14-3 since Blake punched that assistant trainer in the face; they're 4th in the West overall) after a cushy two-day break. The Lakers win boosted their road record to a deservedly middling 10-10, and bumped up their record to 4-6 in their last ten contests. The story of their season has been their maddening inconsistency, as, Lakers game excluded, they've played to the level of their competition for better or worse far too many times. The Clippers just played the Lakers on Friday, actually, handing the Kobe Bryant Retirement Tour a not-quite-decimation-level 105-93 defeat. Prior to BG going down, the Clippers had been having a rough go of it themselves, relative to summer expectations anyway. After supposedly shoring up their bench with veterans like Paul Pierce, Wesley Johnson, the already-flipped J-Smoov, and The Eighth Grader over the summer, they came out flat. This included an offensive-free loss at the hands of Da Bullz in Chicago, 83-80, in December. Smith was integral last time, in fact, in keeping the game close -- Blake Griffin was assessed a Flagrant-2 foul against Taj and ejected in the third, and it was up to his sub to spark a run, bringing the Clips all the way back from 16 down to tie things up midway through the fourth. After trading buckets the rest of the way, the Bulls escaped via a botched CP3 trey attempt in the game's final seconds. Not an entirely convincing victory, sure, but on paper (and, thus far, in reality) the Clippers are a better team, and a win is a win.
The big drawback to taking too much from that prior victory: it was, on the whole, a significantly healthier Bulls team. Granted, some rotational issues have been sussed out since then (I'm happier with E'Twaun Moore as the current MDJ sub on the wing over the ineffectual Snell/McBuckets tag team). Bigger-picture, though, we also are without the services of Joakim Noah (out for the year as you know), the newly appendix-free Nikola Mirotic (back at "some point after the All-Star break"), Dunleavy still (though he may return on this road trip, as he's been practicing with Golden State's Santa Cruz-based D-League affiliate this week), possibly Captain Kirk (a game-time decision with that nagging quad injury), and, worst of all... JIMMY BUTLER IS PLAYING HURT ONLY THROUGH THE GRACE OF JEFF TANAKA. Or, well, maybe this "tweaked" ankle that forced him to sit out yesterday's practice really isn't a big deal. Hard to say. Quick note on Kirk: he's shooting 42.2% from three this season, you guys! And 43.8% from 2, but I mean, whatever. I'm much happier with his role this year, and he's much more effective this way, logging just 15.8 minutes per (8.6 minutes last than last season) and shooting 43% overall from the field as opposed to that dismal 37.3% last season (not a typo, that's from the field, for those who forgot).
I'm still bummed that E'Twaun Moore is the best back-up point guard on the team, especially now that he's also possibly the third-best wing, because... he's still not that good. The Bulls are stretched so thin at the wrong time, and will be hard pressed to make much of a trade, BUT maybe they could get a sniff on Dougie Mac and one of their 2016 draft picks? They need to shore up the wing, everyone except GarPaxsdorf acknowledges this, and it's silly to treat the return of Dunleavy as the fix-all they needed. McDermott and Snell have been really, really rough this year after a decent first month of the season for both of them. Something's gotta give. To pretend that the Bulls have no assets is silly. They don't need both those draft picks. And yes, I say picks because THEY ARE GETTING THAT CONDITIONAL SACTO PICK THIS YEAR (even their coach is getting T'd up nowadays, but Cousins and Rondo should eventually be just good enough to play them into something better than the 10th-worst record in the league -- although they're 9th right now). (Okay okay, the Kings could totally blow this and get a top 10 worst record. A guy can dream can't he?)
PG: Chris Paul (6'0" probably) - CP3 may be 31 now, but dude can BALL, and the loss of Blake has unleashed an unholy beast of a pick-and-roll between Paul and pseudo-All-Star DeAndre Jordan. He's always a tough cover, always a clutch-ish in-season weapon late in games, and always kind of a dick to his teammates. I'm gonna set the over-under on him yelling at other Austin Rivers for blown defensive coverage at 2.5. Place your bets.
SG: J.J. Redick (6'4") - I think that sleeve is giving him super powers. The former Blue Devil scoring phenom (also 31 like CP3, but with 12,000 fewer NBA minutes logged than the point guard) is having the best year of his pro career, shooting an insane-for-a-guard 47.8% overall, 47.7% from three, and averaging 21 ppg per 36 minutes -- all career bests. Wouldn't it be great to have someone like this on the Bulls for just $7.1 million a year? Jimmy can take him though.
SF: Luc Mbah a Moute (6'8") - After a decent year (not in terms of shooting, but in terms of cumulative offensive output and projectable defensive ability) on an awful, awful Philadelphia team, Mbah a Moute had a shot to really make an impact with the Clippers. BUT THE DUDE CAN'T SHOOT (41.5% from the field this year). He's primarily a defensive option, and that's OK considering who he starts with. Odds are he and Paul Pierce will be helping Reddick to stop old Jimmy G.
PF: Paul Pierce (6'7") - Clips Nation has The Truth slotted in at the 4 over Mbah a Moute, so that's where we'll put him here. The reality (The Truth?) is that Pierce AND Mbah a Moute are both really small-ball power forwards, and against a bigger team like Chicago, even an injury-depleted bigger team like Chicago, they could have a rough go of it trying to Cover Taj and Crazy Eyes. The wheels have also kind of just come off for the 38 year-old Pierce after a great role-playing season for Washington. Pierce also sat during the Staples Center showdown on Friday for rest, so... expect some rust. He's shooting 34.4% from the field (yes, way worse than Kirk shot last year) for 5.7 points per game (11.7 over 36), 2.8 boards (5.8 per 36), and 1 assist in just 17.5 minutes a night, averaging an 8.1 PER and a -2.8 box plus-minus, all career worsts.
C: DeAndre Jordan (6'11") - The 27 year-old is still playing some of the best basketball of his career, averaging his standard double-double (11.8 points per game and 13.7 boards, to go along with a Pau-level 2.2 blocks per game), and still shooting at a hilarious, Ben Wallace-esque pace from the charity stripe (a whopping 42.1%). He'll be a handful for Chicago right up till the last 4 minutes of the 4th, where Doc will have to remove him or risk severe, Andre Drummond-level embarrassment.
Bench: Jamal Crawford, Wesley Johnson, Austin Rivers, Lance'll Make 'Em Dance (playing 10.1 fewer minutes than he did with Charlotte, BUT shooting 46% from the field, including a career-high 38.1% from 3), and the immortal Cole Aldrich. Not too great, but, still, better than ours sans Jo, Niko, or Kirk (can't believe I'm saying that Kirk improves our bench, but there you go), and with Moore starting for Dunleavy.
Prognosis: I say the locker-room tension amidst the Clips (Blake has not sat on LA's bench since the punch) combined with Derrick Rose randomly stepping it up against Chris Paul (as he is wont to do against the upper tier PG's) pulls the depleted Bulls to a surprise win over the newly-gelling Clippers. Bulls by 8.
Tip: 2:30 p.m. CST, televised on ABC and broadcast on ESPN AM-1000 radio.