Can the Chicago Bulls make a statement?
Meet the Opponents:
• 2/28 @ Heat (40-21): Third times the charm? Doubt it.
• 3/3 @ Hawks (29-31): Beat us once, shame on you. Beat us twice, shame on me. Beat us three times, shame on me again. Beat us four times … UGH!
• 3/4 vs. Bucks (36-25): Thinking about leaving Grayson in Milwaukee.
Bulls Projected Lineup
1. Ayo Dosunmu
2. Zach LaVine
3. DeMar DeRozan
4. Javonte Green
5. Nikola Vučević
Opponent Projected Lineup
1. Gabe Vincent
2. Jimmy Butler
3. Duncan Robinson
4. PJ Tucker
5. Bam Adebayo
1. Trae Young
2. Kevin Huerter
3. De’Andre Hunter
4. Danilo Gallinari
5. Clint Capela
1. Jrue Holiday
2. Grayson Allen
3. Khris Middleton
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo
5. Brook Lopez
Unavailable/Injured (at the start of the week):
Bulls: Lonzo Ball OUT (knee), Alex Caruso OUT (wrist), Patrick Williams OUT (wrist), Nikola Vucevic PROBABLE (ankle)
Heat: Kyle Lowry OUT (Personal Reason), Markeiff Morris OUT (neck), Victor Oladipo OUT (knee), Caleb Martin QUESTIONABLE (Achillies)
Hawks: John Collins OUT (foot)
Bucks: Pat Connaughton OUT (hand), Brook Lopez OUT (back), George Hill OUT (neck)
Injury updates via ESPN.
• Bulls: 54.7 EFG% (4th), 13.0 TOV% (5th), 24.7 OREB% (29th), .245 FTA RATE (16th)
• Heat: 54.0 EFG% (8th), 15.1 TOV% (17th), 29.1 OREB% (7th), .248 FTA RATE (13th)
• Hawks: 54.0 EFG% (7th), 12.5 TOV% (1st), 26.7 OREB% (18th), .248 FTA RATE (14th)
• Bucks: 54.1 EFG% (6th), 13.5 TOV% (10th), 26.5 OREB% (21st), .250 FTA RATE (10th)
What to Watch For …
Bulls: While injury trouble has made it hard to criticize this team too strongly for their lackluster 3-13 record against the top-5 teams in each conference, no one is going to feel sorry for the Bulls. The fact of the matter is they have yet to play their best basketball against the league’s top squads, and the team’s “Big 3” has to prove they can hang with the big boys before the postseason rolls around. This week will offer two massive opportunities to strike a little more fear in the rest of the Eastern Conference. A win over with Miami or Milwaukee would be quite an encouraging sign, showing all of us how this Bulls team can learn from their mistakes and keep pushing their playoff ceiling higher and higher. Also, I don’t need to tell you this, but any win over a top team in the East feels pretty huge since only 4.0 games separate seeds 1-5.
Heat: With a net rating that sits 5th-best, it’s no surprise Miami is one of the most well-rounded teams in the NBA. On one end of the floor, they have an effective field goal percentage that ranks top-10; on the other, they hold opponents to the fewest points in the paint per game. They have a mix of downtown threats and physical finishers, and it will take every ounce of defensive focus from this depleted Bulls team to keep up. Speaking of which, one vulnerable area for this Heat team has been in the turnover department. They average the 5th-most turnovers per game, which has allowed opponents to average roughly 16.7 points off turnovers a night.
Hawks: The Hawks will try to evade a season-sweep this Thursday when they welcome the Chicago Bulls to State Farm Arena. In all three prior matchups this season, the Chicago Bulls have comfortably looked like the superior team, but that doesn’t mean the Hawks will go down without a fight. We saw just how frisky this Hawks team can be last week, stealing the lead in the 4th quarter before DeMar DeRozan was forced to save the day yet again. Atlanta was able to keep things close with Trae Young scoring just 14 points too, a performance that likely isn’t happening again despite Ayo Dosunmu’s continuously impressive defense. The Bulls have the talent advantage when these teams face off, but if they walk onto the floor too comfortably, this Hawks team will take advantage.
Bucks: When the Bucks and Bulls meet at the United Center this Friday, it will be their first matchup since Grayson Allen’s unnecessary flagrant 2 on Alex Caruso. In other words, get ready for (1) some of the loudest boos you’ve ever heard in your life and (2) some physical basketball. The game was already plenty ugly the last time these teams met, and the 94-90 score reflected just that. Both teams shot below 40.0 percent from the field, and the two combined for 52 total free-throw attempts. I have to imagine we will see a somewhat better shooting performance from both these gifted offensive teams, but the close-fought chippiness likely isn’t going anywhere.
Question of the Week:
Last week’s question: What type of impact will Tristan Thompson’s acquisition have on the Bulls when they kick off their second-half schedule later this week against Atlanta?
The early returns on the Tristan Thompson signing appear positive. His debut against the Hawks proved especially promising with 11 points and 6 rebounds in an efficient 13 minutes of action. However, he struggled to have the same kind of impact against the more physical Memphis Grizzlies, which is surely where the Bulls needed it more. Some of that is likely due to the fact that he’s still finding a rhythm in this new role, but I think we also have to keep in mind he isn’t going to single-handedly change the trajectory of this team.
This week’s question: So do the Bulls look like a team that could hang with either the Heat or Bucks in a playoff series?