How much difference a day makes. Yesterday, yours truly was crowing about our Chicago Bulls having a window to make up some ground in the Eastern Conference with a fairly winnable schedule this week against a triumvirate of sub-.500 clubs. I had hoped the Bulls would be able to build off a nervy 98-94 victory over the Cavaliers this weekend.
Instead, Chicago fumbled away a game against Tom Thibodeau’s seemingly lottery-bound 34-42 New York Knicks, 109-104, with the Bulls putting up little defensive resistance. New York was playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Bulls will now try to secure a victory in their own second night of a back-to-back, in a road bout against the Bradley Beal-less Washington Wizards. The team will then return to Chicago to face off against the L.A. Clippers (who may be getting Paul George back) on Thursday.
Chicago could be missing two of its starters from last night when they square off against the East’s No. 12 seed at Capital One Arena in D.C. Zach LaVine is questionable with knee soreness, which has become the norm on the second night of back-to-backs and feels like a good maintenance practice. Alex Caruso has a lower back contusion but is currently listed as probable to play. Even without either of those key guards, Chicago needs to secure this win. The Bulls still boast a healthy DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic, and will lean on them to take on even more of the offensive burden than usual.
The Bulls bench has been terrible of late. Last night, no reserve was able to score more than six points. Coby White and Patrick Williams have been particularly disappointing as scorers. Assuming one of Caruso or LaVine sits, head coach Billy Donovan will more or less have to give Coby White more minutes.
On the Washington side, the 32-42 Wizards have won their last two straight, including a 123-115 defeat of the Stephen Curry-free Golden State Warriors on Sunday. Chicago is 2-0 against the Wizards this season, but both those victories happened in January, with a more complete team. Both those victories were by single digits, and the New Year’s Day matchup hinged on a DeMar DeRozan buzzer beater.
The Wizards’ best player, Bradley Beal, a three-time All-Star who had fallen to earth this year, was ruled out for the year in February after undergoing a surgery for a torn left wrist ligament. Washington’s second-best player, Kyle Kuzma, is currently sidelined due to right knee tendinitis. Even without that duo, center Kristaps Porzingis could pose trouble for Nikola Vucevic defensively (as most centers seem to do). The 7’3” behemoth holds averages of 21 points, nine boards and three assists in his last ten games for the Wizards. Forward Corey Kispert and swingman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have also stepped up of late as scoring threats for Washington.
Even with the two-game win streak, the Wizards 3-7 across their last ten contests. A reeling 43-32 Chicago team should still win this game. It kinda needs to, because there’s some tough sledding ahead, and Chicago is precariously close to a play-in game. The Bulls are tied record-wise with the ascendant Toronto Raptors, though by benefit of a tiebreaker currently occupy the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed. Both teams are just a game ahead of the seventh seeded Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Bulls will be without Lonzo Ball once again as he continues to rehabilitate from his meniscus tear and bone bruise, though he is set to be reassessed this week and still hopes to play. Without a healthy-ish Lonzo, it sure doesn’t feel like these Bulls can win even a round in the playoffs. As we mentioned above, LaVine is questionable and Caruso is probable.
In addition to Beal and Kuzma, the Wizards will also be without Vernon Carey Jr. (hip).
6 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Chicago
The Bulls are listed as 3.5-point favorites tonight. For what it’s worth, that’s the same margin they were favored by last night, and they were better-rested then. The over/under for the cumulative game score is 222.5 total points. (All info via DraftKings. Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation.)