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Bulls vs. Pelicans game preview and thread: Zion comes to town

battle of the .500 teams!

New Orleans Pelicans v Chicago Bulls Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Your 6-6 Chicago Bulls are looking to get back above .500 when they host against the visiting 5-5 New Orleans Pelicans.

Like the Toronto Raptors before them, the Pelicans are a deep, versatile club with plenty of size and length. Though they are not defensive juggernauts a la Toronto, the Pelicans come equipped with one of the league’s most high-flying offenses, ranking first in points per game (118.5) and fifth in offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions).

The Bulls will have their work cut out for them tonight. Outside of starting point guard CJ McCollum (himself no slouch for a point guard at 6’3”, though Ayo Dosunmu has two inches on him), the Pelicans’ starting lineup is massive. They start 6’8” Herb Jones at shooting guard, 6’8” Brandon Ingram at small forward, 6’6”, 284-pound Goliath Zion Williamson at power forward, and 6’11”, 265-pound behemoth Jonas Valanciunas at center. Beyond Valanciunas, everyone in that first five is somewhat positionally flexible

Chicago at least boasts one of the league’s better defenses. Though a bit small in its frontcourt rotation outside of Vucevic, especially with Andre Drummond out of the lineup lately (though he may return tonight), Chicago is currently ranked fifth in defensive rating thanks to its active play on that end (especially the grind of fan favorites Javonte Green and Alex Caruso). Can it contain the Pelicans?

Zach LaVine seems to at last be rounding into All-Star Zach LaVine form of late, having enjoyed his best game of the season on Monday night against a tough Raptors team. The Bulls will need him and DeMar DeRozan firing on all cylinders. Zach especially will need to be ready to help DDR should the Pelicans, like the Raptors, Hornets and Sixers before them, opt to trap DeMarvelous and get the ball out of his hands early.

Nikola Vucevic has been one of the league’s best rebounders this season (he has grabbed the most defensive rebounds in the NBA this year, and is 12.3 overall boards per game ranks second beyond just Rudy Gobert league-wide, as of this writing), and will have his work cut out for him tonight battling Valanciunas and co. on the boards. Starting power forward Patrick Williams is a bit of an X-factor tonight, as usual. Given the length, strength, size and athleticism of the Pelicans frontline, the 21-year-old will need to exhibit the same two-way effort he displayed in the two-game Toronto “series,” where he averaged 11.5 points (on an average of 12 field goal attempts), 6.5 boards, and 1.5 blocks.

After battling their way through a whopping four (four!) back-to-back sets in their first 12 games, your Chicago Bulls will see their schedule begin to finally, mercifully start staggering their games over this upcoming stretch. Following tonight’s game, the Bulls won’t play again until Sunday, against Arturas Karnisovas’s old club the Denver Nuggets. After that, Chicago will get a reprieve until the following Wednesday, when they will again do battle against the Pellies, this time at the unfortunately-named Smoothie King Center.

Injury Report:

Andre Drummond (left shoulder sprain) has been updated from doubtful Monday (he didn’t play) to probable today. Coby White (left quad contusion) remains out.

For the Pelicans, ex-Bull Garrett Temple will be absent for personal reasons. Versatile reserve forward Larry Nance Jr. is questionable with a hyperextended left knee.

Game Time: 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago.