[Thanks to Easy Eis for today's game preview -yfbb]
Welcome to nuclear winter, Chicago Bulls fans.
It was not but a month ago that the Bulls enjoyed a six game winning streak that included wins over Eastern Conference Playoff contenders Indiana, Boston, and Toronto (twice). Now, a mere three days into February, the Bulls find themselves losers of nine of their last thirteen with four games left on their road trip, the latest of which comes tonight against the Sacramento Kings. What looked like a sure-enough win a short while ago suddenly becomes an important and challenging game, as the Bulls will likely struggle to contain a DeMarcus Cousins that has been on a rampage in recent contests. Then again, Cousins (along with Rajon Rondo and Ben McLemore) is questionable with an ankle injury that caused him to miss Monday night's game against the Bucks, so this game could gradually swing in or out of the Bulls favor as game-time injury reports become available closer to tip off.
As for the Kings collectively, there's nothing particularly positive that jumps off the page other than their blistering league-best pace of play of 102 possessions per game, a mark that eclipses even the likes of the Golden State Warriors. They do tie with the Bucks at 5th in the NBA with respect to assist ratio (17.7%), but they also have a turnover ratio that ranks third worst in the league behind only Phoenix and Philadelphia at 14.5%. Much of their success comes from the performance of their two best players, DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo. Cousins is on a tear in the last ten games, averaging 31 ppg on 46.8% shooting along with 12.9 rpg, and one of those contests featured him going off for 56 points. In addition, Rondo finds himself enjoying a nice bounce-back season as he currently leads the league in assists by a considerably wide margin (11.7 apg and 42 more total than #2 Russell Westbrook). He also had arguably the greatest perimeter shooting night of his career on Monday going a perfect 4-4 from 3, so here's hoping BlogaBull's favorite expletive doesn't keep up the momentum tonight if he plays.
Regardless of whether or not the Kings' two best players suit up tonight, those aforementioned metric stats provide a key area in which the Bulls can do some significant damage against the Kings if they are up to task. The absurd pace of play the Kings utilize leads to an extremely large amount of transition attempts, something indicated by their totaling of already one thousand transition possessions through the course of this NBA season. Yet, despite this, the Kings only manage to score 51.9% of the time in transition and turn the ball over at a rate of 14.4% that ranks among worst in the league. Through all of the Bulls' struggles this season in various areas of basketball, they still remain the very best transition defense team in the NBA, surrendering points just 45.7% of the time. However, they are also at the moment the worst offensive team in the NBA in transition, scoring just 45.5% of the time, but Bulls fans are well aware that players like Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler are capable of so much more in this regard. Thus, if the Bulls can remain stalwart in transition today while converting their own transition looks that they are going to see a lot of anyway, they will be in good shape to earn a victory.
As far as losing a tenth game in fourteen contests goes, this one wouldn't be the worst in the world. Keep in mind that each victory for the Kings moves them one step closer to handing over their draft pick to the Bulls, and given that they are flirting with finishing right outside of the top ten, every win for them counts. I'm not saying root for the Bulls to lose today, but hey, fans that deal with the emotional roller-coaster that is following this team need to take the few positives as they become available. I would hope that a team anxious to get better that needs to get better to achieve its goals would come out firing tonight against a somewhat lowly Western Conference opponent that may be without both of its premiere talents. Unfortunately, as Bulls fans have learned all too often in too many disappointing ways, anything is possible with this team. The Bulls are more than capable of beating the Kings, but something doesn't bode well from my perspective regarding this Bulls team of late, and I don't believe tonight will be the night for their first victory of February.
Tip is at 10:00 ET, 9:00 CT on Comcast SportsNet. Nikola Mirotic and Joakim Noah are both still out (Mirotic maybe for even longer now), while Mike Dunleavy continues his brief D-League stint with the Santa Cruz Warriors.