Tonight in Boston, our Chicago Bulls look to put the finishing touches on what has been an impressive regular season showing against the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded Boston Celtics, a team they could easily face in the first round of the 2023 playoffs. Chicago is currently leading the two teams’ season series 2-1. The Bulls are also looking to improve on a shockingly competent three-game win streak.
The East’s play-in candidates (as of now) are incredibly bunched up, as the ninth-seeded Bulls (who are currently 19-21) are just 3.5 games behind the sixth-seeded Indiana Pacers (23-18), while Chicago is just two games ahead of the 11th-seeded Washington Wizards and 12th-seeded Toronto Raptors (both 17-23).
Boston, on the other hand, occupies a much classier NBA tier, the conference’s top five teams. At 28-12, the Celtics are just 3.5 wins ahead of the fifth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers.
That makes this Bulls bout a weirdly meaningful game for Boston. Though the Celtics are obviously a much better club, Chicago seems to give them fits, in part because DeMar DeRozan always gets up for these matchups. He’s averaging 33 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.7 assists across these three contests.
Nikola Vucevic has also performed well against the Celtics thus far this season, but that has been due in part to the absence of All-Defensive starting center Robert Williams in all three of these games (remember how he looked like Nikola Jokic when Joel Embiid was unavailable for Philly on Friday?). Williams is healthy tonight, and Boston’s now once-again formidable frontcourt of Williams at the five and Al Horford moved back to the four could spell trouble for Vooch and the Bulls’ own Williams, young Patrick.
The big X-factor for Chicago (as much as an All-Star can be an X-factor) might be maximum-salaried shooting guard Zach LaVine. Zach Attack followed up his historic 41-point Friday night performance (which included 11 made threes!) with a 36-point turn the very next day in a big win against old pal Lauri Markkanen (ugh) and the Utah Jazz. LaVine was a bit erratic ahead of those back-to-back heaters, having averaged just 18 points on 37.8% shooting from the floor in the Bulls’ prior three games ahead of this past weekend.
Because the Bulls have so few reliable volume three-point shooters outside of LaVine and because the Celtics generally leave the opposition little margin for error, Zach’s going to have to get closer to his 65% field goal rate over the last two games.
Alex Caruso is probable and told reporters earlier today he’s playing. Javonte Green, who’s missed Chicago’s last four games with a sore right knee, is questionable to play tonight.
The only meaningful listed potential Celtics absence is 2022 Defensive Player of the Year point guard Marcus Smart, who will be sidelined with a left knee contusion.
6:30 p.m. CT on NBA TV, NBC Sports Chicago