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Bulls vs. Celtics Game Preview and Open Thread

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new starting lineup to look forward to against Kyrie-less (again) Celtics

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bulls (21-41) vs. Boston Celtics (44-20)

7 p.m. NBC Chicago Sports Channel

Injury Report:

The Chicago Bulls list Paul Zipser as doubtful tonight with left foot soreness. He’s missed the last three games with this ailment.

On the Celtics side, star point guard Kyrie Irving will sit with left knee soreness. German rookie Daniel Theis is probable to play tonight after he missed the last two games with right hamstring soreness.

The Last Time The Two Teams Met:

Irving also sat out against the Bulls on Dec. 11, and the Bulls rolled 108-85 at the United Center. The bash brothers Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis led the way with 24 and 23 points respectively as this was the third win in the Bulls inexplicable seven game, mid-December hot streak.

Predictably, with Irving healthy 12 days later, it was the Celtics turn to roll in a matchup against the Bulls. The men in green won 117-92, as Irving poured in 25 points and was one of seven Celtics to score in double digits.

Preview:

Starting lineup roulette begins tonight for the Chicago Bulls, as it’s been arbitrarily decided that 5 games was a ‘block’ for player development and there will be a new block next.

Bobby Portis moves into the starting lineup to replace Cristiano Felicio, alonside holdovers Kris Dunn, David Nwaba, Zach LaVine, and Lauri Markkanen. For Portis, it’ll be his second start of the season and his 19th start of his career as the Bulls remove him from the sixth man role he’s thrived in all season.

This is kind of the manifestation of the pace-and-space, younger and more athletic monikers we’ve been hearing about for two years. The average age of the starters is 22.6 years old. Lavine, Dunn, and Nwaba are all plus athletes. Markkanen is exceedingly athletic for his size and position and has that unicorn “it” factor. Because most of these players are good athletes and all of them are young, they can play with an incredible amount of pace. The Bulls have been eighth in the NBA in pace (102.0) this season and that number could even see an uptick with this starting lineup.

And, fulfilling head coach Fred Hoiberg’s raunchiest basketball fantasy, the Bulls will have some semblance of shooting at all five positions when these guys play together. Nwaba doesn’t have the reputation as a shooter, but he’s 10-for-27 from the 3-point line (37 percent) this season. He’s also shooting 62.5 percent from that range over the last five games as a starter. Dunn isn’t a hugely dangerous 3-point threat, but he has a workable mid-range game that teams must respect.

However, there are some issues with this starting lineup.

First, with Portis playing with the starters who on the second unit picks up the slack in the scoring department? The immediate answer is Denzel Valentine, but there’s major questions over whether he can carry an offense with his mostly one-dimensional spot up shooting offensive game.

How this lineup performs defensively is a wildcard too. Individually, Dunn and Nwaba are about as good at defense as LaVine and Portis are bad at it, and the youth overall obviously also means a lack of experience. On the interior, neither Portis (1.1 percent block percentage) nor Markkanen (1.7 percent block percentage) are shot blockers and what you’d call a true center. As a frontcourt pairing this season, they’ve allowed opposing offenses a 106.4 offensive rating which is below the Bulls overall defensive rating of 108.4 on the season.

With the season reaching its final chapter and tanking a priority, experimentation is always welcomed. If experimentation leads to inexperienced lineups that need to feel each other out before being successful, that’s even better. The Celtics are of course worse without Irving, but have have generally been good this season without him (4-2).