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Bulls vs. Knicks Game Preview, Injury Report, Lineups

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David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

[Thanks to Paul for today's game preview. Please sign up if you're interested in doing one -yfbb]

Chicago Bulls (19-20) vs. New York Knicks (17-22)

Madison Square Garden: New York, New York

7:00 p.m. CDT

Television Coverage: TNT

Projected Starting Lineups:

Bulls

Knicks

Head Coach

Fred Hoiberg

Jeff Hornacek

Point Guard

Michael Carter-Williams

Derrick Rose

Shooting Guard

Dwyane Wade

Courtney Lee

Small Forward

Doug McDermott

Carmelo Anthony

Power Forward

Taj Gibson

Kristaps Porzingis

Center

Robin Lopez

Joakim Noah

Injury Report:

Both Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic will miss their second-straight game due to illnesses. Dwyane Wade returns to the starting lineup tonight after receiving a scheduled rest day for the game against the Wizards on Tuesday.

Derrick Rose returned to the New York Knicks starting lineup last night after missing the Knick’s previous game for unspecified family issues. The Knicks should be at full strength for the game tonight.

Preview:

Now that the New York Knicks have located the whereabouts of Derrick Rose, we can proceed with talking about the actual basketball game that goes down tonight.

Seriously though, for those who are fans of drama, these two teams are the Kardashian sisters of the NBA. From the Rajon Rondo benching saga to Rose's recent AWOL due to an unspecified family issue, to the Hoiberg "hot seat" talk, Jimmy Butler trade rumors and the reported souring relationship between Rose and Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek, it is fair to say that both teams have been a bit distracted this season.

All the drama has added intrigue to two teams that for most of the season have looked mediocre at best and just plain bad at worst.

After a 101-99 loss against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night, the Bulls have dropped back under the .500 mark for the third time this season. Without the services of Jimmy Butler (illness), Dwyane Wade (scheduled rest), and Nikola Mirotic (illness), the Summer League Bulls + Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson, Rajon Rondo and Michael Carter-Williams put forth one of their best efforts of the season, although they fell just short due to a John Wall game winner. Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis poured in 19 and 13 points respectively and Rajon Rondo scored 12 points and dished out six assists in a triumphant return from five-straight DNP-CD.

After a 3-0 start to the New Year, the Bulls have now dropped two-straight games and find themselves on the outside looking in of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. To make matters worse, both Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic will miss the game tonight due to ongoing battles with illnesses.

The Knicks are even worse off than the Bulls are at this point in the season After blowing a ten-point lead with two minutes remaining in their game last night en route to losing 98-97 against the hapless 76ers, the Knicks have now lost nine of their last ten games as their record has dropped to five games under the .500 mark.

Veteran Carmelo Anthony continues to lead the Knicks in scoring with 21.9 points per game. Kristaps Porzingis is one of the brightest young stars in the NBA, although his production has leveled off the last four games (14 points per game on 41.7 percent from the field). Derrick Rose’s numbers have hovered just under his career averages, although he has played well for the most part this season. Joakim Noah’s continued demise from his peak years with the Chicago Bulls is one of the saddest stories in the NBA.

The Knicks beat the Bulls 117-104 at the United Center in a Nov. 4 matchup between the two teams. Even though the media hyped the game as the return of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to the United Center, it was Kristaps Porzingis (27 points; 4-for-7 from 3-point land) and Dwyane Wade (35 points on 12-for-20 from the field) who stole the show. Noah and Rose did show up as well as the former notched a season-high 16 points and the latter recorded a double-double (15 points, 11 assists).

It was difficult to watch Rose and Noah celebrate a victory at the United Center in blue and orange uniforms instead of black and red ones. What do the Bulls need to do to make sure they are the ones celebrating tonight at Madison Square Garden?

Avoid Rash Lineup Decisions Based on One Game

One game is a small sample size.

On Tuesday night, Denzel Valentine led the Bulls in scoring, Bobby Portis went 3-for-4 from 3-point land, and Rajon Rondo resembled the player that was once a four-time All-Star with his 12 points, four rebounds and six assists.

All three players should get more minutes moving forward then, right?

The answer to this question is a resounding no. Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg shouldn't make impulsive changes to his rotation based on this one game

Rondo was basically playing for his NBA future Tuesday night, and his effort reflected his desperate situation. Ignoring the large body of evidence from previous games that indicates that Rondo is a below average NBA player (at best) at this point in his career is ignorant.

Giving Rondo his starting point guard job back would be ludicrous. Giving him important minutes in the fourth quarter would be equally as crazy (he was a net -3 in 5:43 of playing time in the fourth quarter against the Wizards).

However, Hoiberg could justifiably give Rondo a spot back in the rotation if he pairs him with bench unit players and creatively staggers minutes to make sure Rondo and Wade don’t share the court together too often. Pairing Wade with Rondo remains problematic because both players need to control the ball to be effective and neither can shoot which creates spacing issues. Wade and Rondo have recorded a -0.3 net rating in 19.4 minutes per game of playing time together this season.

If there is a role for Rondo moving forward, it will be on the second unit. On second units, he can dominate the ball and create scoring opportunities for his teammates, a role in which he is much better at and more comfortable with. I wrote about this in a Jan. 1 fanpost and The Athletic Chicago writer Stephen Noh also wrote about it recently.

It is important that Hoiberg doesn’t overreact to Bobby Portis’ performance in the game on Tuesday either.

Portis remains the fifth big man option on the roster (Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Cristiano Felicio should remain ahead of him in the rotation). With Mirotic out tonight with an illness, that bumps Portis up a spot in the rotation.

Prior to Tuesday's game, Portis had a net rating of -2.4 in his previous 24 games and his solid performance against the Wizards doesn't suddenly change the fact that he remains too unpolished to warrant substantial minutes at the NBA level at this point in his career. Barring further injury, Hoiberg should keep his big man rotation intact tonight.

Furthermore, Hoiberg may want to consider using Felicio as a hybrid power forward-center combo so he can get more minutes in this game. This would effectively push Portis back further in the rotation. Felicio is more athletic, more polished offensively, a better defender by almost every measure, spaces the floor well and has developed outstanding chemistry with Dwyane Wade (who needs to have a good game tonight). These qualities provide compelling reasons to play Felicio a lot more than Portis tonight.

Denzel Valentine represents a possible exception to the point I’m trying to make here. In the last two games that he has received playing time, he has averaged 14.0 points on 47.6 percent from the field. The Bulls could use his 3-point shooting and there is a possible role for him if he takes Jerian Grant's spot in the rotation tonight. New York hasn't been great at defending the 3-point line this season (19th in the NBA; surrenders a 35.9 percent 3-point field goal percentage to opponents) and replacing a player who isn't really a threat from 3-point land (Grant) with a guy that at least has potential to be a good 3-point shooter (50 percent from this range in the last two games; 44.4 percent from this range as a senior at Michigan State), may be a smart rotational tweak that Hoiberg can implement tonight.

Inserting Rondo and Portis into lineups that had previously worked without them is problematic. Why try to fix something that isn’t broken? Valentine might represent an exception, at least for the game tonight where the Bulls need his 3-point shooting in the absence of Mirotic.

Wade’s World

With Jimmy Butler out, it becomes Dwyane Wade’s responsibility to shoulder the scoring burden and to run the Bull’s offense. That may not be a bad thing, as Wade has played well against the New York Knicks and the players that he will likely be matched up against tonight.

In the first meeting between the two teams, Wade led all scorers with 35 points on 12-for-20 from the field. The five three pointers he made were an anomaly, but the success he had against the player who guarded him wasn’t.

Wade has averaged 24.8 points per game on 50.3 percent from the field in 20 career regular season games against New York Knick’s starting shooting guard Courtney Lee. In the highlight reel above, he hits a lot of tough shots over Lee who is regarded around the NBA as a good perimeter defender.

Instead of relying on outside shots tonight, Wade may be better off attacking the basket when matched up with Lee. Courtney Lee surrenders a 70.3 percent shooting percentage when he defends opponents’ shots that are less than six feet from the basket which is over eight percentage points higher than opponents’ normal shooting percentage from this range.

If the Knicks decide to run Carmelo Anthony at him, that shouldn’t phase Wade at all. In 27 career regular season matchups between the two players, Wade has averaged 24.0 points on 50.7 percent from the field.

Wade has had success against the Knicks for his entire career. In 37 regular season games, he has averaged 25.6 points per game against the Knicks (sixth highest career scoring average against a single team for Wade) on 49.6 percent from the field.

Instead of point Jimmy tonight, the Bulls need point Wade. Not only must he score, but he must create scoring opportunities for his teammates who will rely on him to captain the offense. Wade needs to have one of his best games of the year tonight if the Bulls expect to win.

The Porzingis Problem

Kevin Durant once described him as a unicorn.

Which is a fitting description for a 7-foot-3 center who is a sharpshooter from 3-point land, has good handles, runs the floor majestically, has a lethal mid-range game and averages almost 20 points per game at the age of 21.

In the Nov. 4 matchup between the Bulls and the Knicks, Kristaps Porzingis poured in 27 points on 10-for-15 from the field including 4-for-7 from 3-point land.

The reason stopping Porzingis is a key to this game (as opposed to focusing on Carmelo Anthony or Derrick Rose) reflects a lack of an obvious solution to the problem. Personnel wise, the Bulls don't have a player who matches up well against the multiple ways the 7-foot-3 center can hurt a team offensively.

That is why Robin Lopez has to have the game of his life defensively tonight. According to Basketball-Reference.com, 33.4 percent of Porzingis' shot attempts come from behind the 3-point line (he shoots 40.2 percent from this range) and overall 64.2 percent of his shot attempts come from farther than ten feet from the basket. Ideally, the Bulls would employ either Gibson or Felicio to guard such a talented stretch big man on the perimeter. However, both players check in at 6-foot-9 inches and aren't tall enough to challenge Porzingis' shot.

Lopez, who checks in at seven feet, is the only player on the Bulls who really has a chance to disrupt or alter Porzingis' shot. Unfortunately, we have seen how Lopez has fared against stretch big men in the past. His brother Brook Lopez torched him for 33 points on Dec. 28 while San Antonio Spur's big man LaMarcus Aldridge ruined Lopez's Christmas with his 33-point performance against him.

Lopez needs to make a commitment to stick with Porzingis on the perimeter because he is the only player on the Bulls who is long and tall enough to provide real resistance to his outside shot. According to NBA.com, Porzingis averages 1.6 drives per game, so selling out to guard him on the perimeter probably won't kill the Bulls.

Obviously, there are other ways Porzingis can score the basketball. He is huge, but he is also very athletic and can hurt opponents in transition.

In this play, Porzingis runs and is rewarded with an easy dunk in transition. The Bulls big men need to 1). Commit to hustling back on defense 2). Be cognizant of where he is on the floor in transition and put a body on him when necessary.

Finally, bringing double teams when Porzingis gets the ball in the paint or when he is isolated on his man in the mid-range area wouldn't hurt either. In the above video, Nik Stauskas (number 11) briefly reaches in there on Porzingis. It doesn't look like much, but it could have disrupted the fluidity of Porzingis' move sequence and ultimately served to disrupt the shot. In the game tonight in situations like this, I'd like to see more full on helps rather than  half-hearted reaches, but what Stauskas did in the above video was a good start.

Porzingis isn't going to kill you with his passing out of a double team as he has averaged 1.9 turnovers and 1.4 assists per 36 minutes this season. Plus, it is probably better to make him pass off to a teammate and have guys like Joakim Noah or Courtney Lee beat you rather than give Porzingis shots that he can usually knock down.

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In the battle of two of the most dysfunctional franchises in the NBA, the more motivated team will have an advantage in this one. Noah and Rose will assuredly put it all out there against their former team, but Rajon Rondo, Denzel Valentine among others should be motivated as well to retain their spots in the rotation. The Bulls should win this game tonight, but that doesn't mean that they will.