[Thanks to deepdishhoops for today's game preview. Lots of spots available for future games -yfbb]
In a season ripe with uncertainty, there is only one thing that I can say that is true for tonight's game: I may or may not watch this game. I think it's fair to say that the Chicago Bulls have firmly become DTD on my calendar. Until recently, I would lightly skew my schedule to find time to watch them. Nowadays, it has to be hovering somewhere around 50%. I find myself inventing reasons to watch them play. When I consider how conflicted I am as to whether or not the Bulls should be in the playoffs this year, I often conclude that watching a game where I'm not really hoping for a win just doesn't sound that fun.
And I'll be damned if this Bulls team isn't flat out unrecognizable at times. These Portis-McDermott-Holiday-Snell-Felicio lineups feel like cold water in the face, that some undefined era in Chicago Bulls history has finally passed away. If you didn't already know, I'll break it to you: The Bulls will not be winning an NBA championship this year. What's the best case scenario for this team in the playoffs? A first round upset of Toronto for a nice, feel-good story, followed by a hasty second round exit to the Miami Heat? A lottery pick in the 13-15 range doesn't sound so bad to me. I find it hard to believe that any potential free agents this summer are going to look at the Bulls as contenders just for having made the playoffs in the East this year.
Still, the Bulls can simulate some pretty decent basketball in spurts and now are winners of three in a row. Mike Dunleavy is clicking and living up to his glue-guy hype that was an easy excuse early in the season. McDermott isn't yet making me eat some very NSFW words, but let's say I may be pre-heating the oven. Derrick Rose is playing his best basketball in years (when he plays), finally starting to hit his mid-range floaters and shots at the rim. Even though they've reeled off a few wins, I cannot forget that a grim future remains. What chicanery can Gar Forman and John Paxson cook up next? Do you doubt that they wouldn't put pen to paper for a $45M, 3-Year contract for Pau Gasol? (God bless him, I love Pau but NO.)
Despite all of this, I'll still conjure some reasons to watch tonight's New York Knicks game. Let me share them with you. It starts with this Porzingis kid who may be worth the price of admission alone. After a stellar stretch in the first third of the season, he's been pretty inconsistent and the grind of the long NBA season and fabled "rookie wall" is often cited as the reason. However, he still puts out the occasional gem like in last Saturday's loss to Washington (20pts, 7rbs, 2 assts, 3 blks). When I saw him play in the Vegas Summer League, I remember overhearing a nearby fan yelling "Pass it to Porzingis, he's open! HE'S SEVEN FOOT THREE, HE'S ALWAYS OPEN!" It's true. When is he not open? If he can put on twenty to thirty pounds in the next couple of years, he's going to be a force.
And what will McDermott pull out next? Can he keep up his lightning level of play? He's 17 of 28 from three in the last five games and has been scoring in a variety of ways. Will he spook NY with one of his sneaky-hops dunks?
From a pure basketball standpoint, I'll be looking to enjoy the Butler vs Melo matchup. Carmelo is still one of the best offensive players in the game and his footwork is a nightmare for most players to defend. It's always exciting to watch Jimmy go toe to toe with the offensive elite in the NBA because it can turn into a pretty compelling duel. Seeing two of the best go to work on the court is still good for at least a few minutes of entertainment.
And finally, here's a game I like to play to spice things up. It goes like this. Every time that either Mirotic tries to pump fake his way into a foul or Tony Snell throws the ball out of bounds you take a shot. The first quarter, each occurrence is worth one shot, the second quarter, two, and so on. And then for every shot that you take, you take a shot. You are guaranteed to be hospitalized by half time. Good luck!
Those are the reasons you need to watch this game, folks. Ignore whatever stale angle the media is going to pursue, probably something from the Carmelo & Bulls Summer 2014 photo album. Can anyone look at me and tell me with a straight face that Carmelo Anthony would have put the Bulls over the top last season, or furthermore, that you would want that terrible contract on the Bulls books? The choice was a no brainer, it was a lot of guaranteed money, let's just move on.
How will tonight turn out? Well, they've split the series at 1-1 to date, though their December 19th loss was the night after their 4OT loss to Detroit. Not long after the Bulls crushed them on the first day of the new year, the Knicks' season began to circle the drain, now losers of 21 of their last 27 games. Should be an easy win, right? No, because we now live in that sad gray hue of fandom where we can lose to anyone, anywhere on any night. How exciting!
But let's not take a very possible loss to the Knicks too harshly. These types of games are perfect for reminding us just how much worse it can be. They have zero draft picks next year, a final cherry on top for Denver in the original Nuggets to Knicks trade and a byproduct of the Andrea Bargnani acquisition. They have virtually no desirable contracts on their books outside of Porzingis and maybe Jerian Grant (Arron Afflalo and Derrick Williams both have player options next year, which they are sure to decline). They are currently on the books to pay a 34 year old Carmelo Anthony $27.9M in 2018-2019. They are being coached by Kurt Rambis. They are owned by James Dolan. Feel better?
So, onward to the United Center where we can watch Kurt Rambis pretend to coach, Carmelo Anthony pretend to play defense and Neil Funk pretend to have a heart beat.
BULLS PROJECTED STARTERS
PG - Derrick Rose SG - Jimmy Butler SF - Mike Dunleavy PF - Taj Gibson C - Pau Gasol
Bench: Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, Aaron Brooks, Justin Holiday, Bobby Portis, Cristiano Felicio, Tony Snell Out: E'Twaun Moore, Bearclaw
KNICKS PROJECTED STARTERS
PG - Jose Calderon SG - Sasha Vujacic (Rambis being Rambis) SF - Carmelo Anthony PF - Unicorn C - Robin Lopez
Bench: Arron Afflalo, Lagston Galloway, Jerian Grant, Derrick Williams, Kyle O'Quinn, Louis Amundson, Cleanthony Early, Kevin Seraphin
Go Bulls. Or whatever.