[Thanks to fishstix for today's game preview. Lots of spots available for future games -yfbb]
As our good friend Nick Friedell would say: "In a season full of bad losses, last night was one of the worst." The Bulls will be rolling into the Garden after yet another bad loss to a bad team. Hoiberg's "this has to be our last bad game speech" after the Kings game must not have resonated with the team, as they came out as flat as ever last night against the Knicks. As the Bulls look to rebound tonight there are a few things that we should look out for.
1. Jimmy Butler:
Since returning from his most recent injury, Butler has really struggled. He is 28/77 (36%) from the field and 0-7 from three since returning. Since the All-Star break Butler is shooting 38/11/83 while only averaging 15.3 points a game. It is hard to be upset with a player who is asked to guard the opposing team's best scorer, play backup point guard, and carry the team's offense, but it is frustrating to see him struggle like he has. While it is pretty obvious that Butler is playing hurt, his shooting has really hurt the team and his confidence. After last night's tough loss, Butler sounded as down as he has ever been:
Butler: "My teammates won't say it. My coaches won't say it. But if I continue to play like this, I'm hurting this team."â K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) March 24, 2016
Butler: "Ain't nothing wrong with me physically. Right now, it's mentally. The ball's not going in. I let that affect me on both ends."â K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) March 24, 2016
We should expect to see Butler's minutes down tonight as he is coming off a back to back and he played heavy minutes in last night's loss. With that being said, I fully expect the Bulls to ride him 40 minutes tonight, well because they're the Bulls!
2. Nikola Mirotic
One of the few bright spots in last night's game was Nikola Mirotic. He had the best game of his young career putting up 35 points on 17 shots, and hitting nine 3's! (This tied the Bulls record held by Ben Gordon.) The Bulls had really hoped that Niko would take the next step this season. While he has struggled throughout the year, it was great to see him play with so much confidence. With Pau on a minutes restriction and coming off a game last night, look to see Niko play extended minutes again.
(Update: Bulls list Gasol as questionable with knee swelling.)
3. Defense and Overall Energy
During the telecast last night, the commentators said over and over that the Bulls didn't look like a team who wanted to make the playoffs. They came out with no energy, and they really didn't start fighting until they were down 22. They allowed the Knicks to shoot 14-25 (56%) from deep last night. Coming into last night the Knicks were ranked 23rd in 3pt shooting. While the Bulls defense has struggled mightily this year, they typically defend the three ball fairly well.
If the Bulls plan on winning tonight, they must step up the defensive aggression. They were allowing Porzingis (and the rest of the Knicks for that matter) to get open look after open look. Unfortunately, this lackluster defense isn't anything new. Since the All-Star break the Bull's opponents have shot nearly 46% from the floor while averaging 106.3ppg. They have allowed their opponents to score over 100 points in 16 of their 18 games since All-Star Break. Somewhere Thibs is enjoying a nice laugh at that stat..
It is hard to get excited for tonight's game, but it is an important game for the Bulls who are now one game out of the playoffs. I expect the Bulls to grind out an ugly win, and we will hear Fred drop a few more cliche lines about the Bull's efforts.
Final Prediction: 103-100 Bulls
Tip off: 7:30 ET
Injury Report: Gasol: Questionable (knee soreness/rest); Moore and Bairstow: OUT