The Bulls kick off a five-game home stand tonight against a string of play-in and playoff teams. First up is the Los Angeles Clippers, with one of their two superstar forwards back in action.
Paul George returned to the Clippers fold for the first time since tearing a UCL in his right elbow on December 22nd. He chipped in a game-high 34 points on 10-of-20 shooting from the floor as the Clippers staged a 25-point comeback to ice a 121-115 victory over the playoff-bound Utah Jazz.
Without George for much of the season (he’s missed 47 games) or Kawhi Leonard for all of it, the Clippers, guided by coach Ty Lue, have held steady as a lower Western Conference playoff seed. They are comfortably the eighth seed in the West with a 37-39 record.
The 44-32 Bulls have six games left on their season slate, and, given their miserable 6-11 record since the All-Star break (but hey, they’ve won two of their last three!) and the competition level of their opposition, may struggle to win more than one or two contests. Granted, the Bulls have a been a much stronger home club (they are 26-10 at the United Center) than they have been a road team (they’re 18-22 away). Thanks to some unfortunately-timed key injuries to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ front court, Chicago may yet be able to hold onto the fifth or sixth seed in the East and avoid the indignity of an extra play-in game during the 2022 postseason.
Though on paper one may consider the clubs to be relatively evenly matched given their available personnel, the Bulls may have trouble closing this contest out, especially if their offense devolves into hinging on All-Stars Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan to create something out of nothing in the fourth quarter. The team can’t just depend on its best players to bail it out at all times with impossible shotmaking, but that does seem to be the plan. Their limited front court size beyond centers Nikola Vucevic and Tristan Thompson has meant that the Bulls struggle to secure second-chance points, an element of Chicago’s game that a smart, big Clippers team should have no problem exploiting.
Head coach Billy Donovan may want to consider sprucing up the team’s rote fourth quarter offensive approach. Specifically, as Jason and Ricky mentioned on today’s Cash Considerations podcast, it could be time for the team to look to Vucevic to handle the ball late in games, as an excellent passer and shooter for his size.
Donovan has been rolling with a starting five of Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic of late, with Coby White, Patrick Williams, Javonte Green, and Tristan Thompson as his four bench players. Chicago’s limited three-point shooting has been hampered a bit by the recent inefficiency of White as a deep-ball shooter, and Williams’s seeming hesitance to score.
The Bulls are actually much healthier than the Clippers as of this writing (see below). Playing at home, maybe that will be enough to help Chicago nab a victory tonight.
Starting point guard Lonzo Ball is still sidelined for the Bulls. Time is running out for him to make a return before the playoffs. Shooting guard Zach LaVine, still battling knee soreness, has been listed as probable.
For the Clippers, swingman Norman Powell (toe), shooting guard Brandon Boston Jr. (illness), rookie point guard Jason Preston (foot surgery) and second-year shooting guard Jay Scrubb (foot surgery) are all also out.
Forward veterans Nicolas Batum (left ankle soreness) and Marcus Morris (left knee soreness) have been listed as questionable to play.
7 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Chicago
The Bulls are listed as two-point favorites tonight. The over/under for the cumulative game score is 221 total points. (All info via DraftKings. Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation.)