After dropping a clunker against the Sacramento Kings this past Friday, the Chicago Bulls quickly rebounded with a victory the following night against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Once again the win was largely in part due to the scoring brilliance of Zach LaVine. He was everywhere for the Bulls, scoring 44 points on 16-of-30 shooting while also grabbing 10 rebounds. LaVine was two assists shy of a triple double as Chicago won its 18th game of the season, 118-106. The Bulls relied on a 40-19 third quarter to build their big lead. The Cavaliers made the game semi-close in the fourth quarter, but they were never really that threatening.
Chicago is currently ninth in the playoff standings, 2.5 games behind the Brooklyn Nets and 3.5 games from the seventh-seeded Orlando Magic. While the Bulls have gone 5-5 in their past 10 games and have won two of their past three, they still struggle against playoff-caliber teams. This past week they played three of the worst teams in the NBA and went 2-1 in that stretch. Things get a lot tougher when the level of the competition rises. The absence of Lauri Markkanen won’t make things any easier. Losing one of your top offensive options right before a stretch of big games isn’t ideal. This could be the blow which sinks the Bulls’ playoff hopes as they have a tough schedule leading up to the All-Star break and for most of the rest of the season. Monday night, the Bulls face off against a Western Conference opponent that is also sitting on the outside bubble of the playoff race.
The San Antonio Spurs are 1.5 games back of the surprising Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed in the West. The Spurs recently had a three-game winning streak snapped on Friday by the Phoenix Suns, and Monday’s game is the second of a back-to-back after a loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. Pascal Siakam scored 35 points for the Raptors, and the Spurs couldn’t overcome a slow first-quarter start en route to a 110-106 final score. Emotions were running high in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, with DeMar DeRozan especially distraught with the news.
LaMarcus Aldridge sprained his right thumb against the Raptors, and he’s going to sit out Monday’s tilt against the Bulls, which is a break given the injury issues in the frontcourt for Chicago. LMA has started shooting 3s again, opening up the Spurs’ offense, and he has been a thorn in the Bulls’ side in the past.
DeRozan has been playing lights out, averaging 22.4 points on 60.4 percent true shooting, though he was understandably quiet in Sunday’s loss as he grieves the loss of Kobe. Gregg Popovich’s crew boasts an excellent bench and has done well offensively this season, but their defense is poor and will be at a rest disadvantage.
Of course, the Bulls will be dealing with plenty of emotions as well due to Kobe’s passing. LaVine idolized Kobe and wears No. 8 in part because of him, while Thaddeus Young will also be paying tribute. It’s going to be an emotional night in the building Kobe Bryant almost called home.
Injury Report: Wendell Carter Jr., Daniel Gafford, Lauri Markkanen, and Otto Porter Jr. are all still out for Chicago. As for the Spurs, Aldridge will be out tonight with a right thumb sprain, while Keldon Johnson, Luka Samanic, and Quinndary Weatherspoon are all inactive as well.
Game Time: 7 p.m. CT
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Betting Odds: The Spurs opened as a 2-point favorite (via the Action Network), but it has since moved down to (-1.5), likely due to the LMA injury. Meanwhile for the total you can find places which offer 213.5, 214, and 214.5, respectively.