[Thanks to Easy Eis for today's game preview -yfbb]
When your only positives from the first two months of 2016 are the return of Mike Dunleavy Jr., a late February offensive explosion from Doug McDermott, consistency from E'Twaun Moore, and a return to form of sorts for Derrick Rose that doesn't have a tangible impact to winning games, you know that times are tough.
But if you have been a Chicago Bulls fan since even merely last season, you knew that this year would be more roller-coastery than perhaps any other. New coach? Check. Same old clown show front office? Check. Rose health issue entering the season? Check. Rose legal issue entering the season? Ugh, check. Beef? Not sure but it still adds fuel to the fire. Opera... no one could have seen that coming.
Then the injury bug came back and reared its ugly head again. Joakim Noah dislocated his "freshly-healed" shoulder in mid-January and will miss the rest of the season. Jimmy Butler suffered a knee strain against the Nuggets on February 5th and likely won't be back until mid-March. Nikola Mirotic still does not feel healthy following workouts and it's becoming increasingly concerning that he may not even make it back to the court this season. Even if he does make it back, the significant health setbacks he has suffered with his appendectomy and hematoma brings up questions regarding whether he could provide anything worthwhile this season anyway. Recently, Derrick Rose has been dealing with a hamstring issue but has looked explosive otherwise. And most recently, Taj Gibson added a hamstring issue to his foot and ankle troubles that have plagued him this season that will likely cause him to miss tonight.
And speaking of tonight, this is where we are as the Bulls prepare to take on fellow playoff-hopeful the Orlando Magic. With four key players all on the injury report (assuming Rose isn't a late scratch for rest or something), it's hard to put much stock in this game or any others that the Bulls have played in of late. However, it doesn't change the fact that the Bulls won a mere four games in the month of February and are now 8-17 over their last twenty-five games, all while playing a miserable brand of basketball that has seen the defense surrender 100+ points in fourteen straight games.
Fortunately, the Magic aren't anything to write home about either. After a somewhat promising start to the season, the Magic have settled into 11th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 26-33. Among major team metric stats, the Magic fail to rank in the top ten of anything except for assist ratio (17.5%) and defensive rebounding rate (77.1%). They also rank only half a point better in terms of offensive efficiency rating than the ghastly Bulls (101.8 vs. 101.3), so the defense may have a chance to snap its 100+ point surrendering streak provided Nikola Vucevic doesn't bring down the house on Pau Gasol again.
Ultimately, point guard play will likely make the difference in this game. While the Bulls clearly have the quality advantage with Derrick Rose playing so well as of late, the Magic definitely have the depth advantage with three players at the position capable of (at the very least) giving Aaron Brooks fits. Elfrid Payton, Brandon Jennings, and former Deron Williams pole-rider C.J. Watson all have PERs above 10, and even Shabazz Napier is a good 4th option to have at the position. If Rose decides to rest late given that this is the 2nd night of a back-to-back, any of the aforementioned players could have a field day with the Bulls' collander-esque defense.
I would like to think that the Bulls pull this one out, but it's hard to be optimistic when considering the Bulls gave up a hilarious 129 regulation points yesterday to a Miami Heat team with its own offensive identity issues. There are quite simply too many injury issues right now facing the Bulls for them to be able to effectively play defense against almost anyone, and for that reason I have to believe that the Bulls are going to lose tonight. It will take a herculean shooting effort for the Bulls to win given that they will likely end up surrendering somewhere north of 110 points as they have in five of their last eleven games. Oh Thibodeau, where art thou?
Tip is at 7:00 PM ET, 6:00 PM CT on Comcast SportsNet. Evan Fournier for the Magic is listed as doubtful with a wrist issue.