The Chicago Bulls continue the longest road trip of their season tonight with their second game against the Brooklyn Nets. The last time these two team met back on December 15th Chicago escaped with a nail biting win 83-82. This game could end up a nail biter again as both teams come into this game as two of the best teams in the Eastern conference.
Since Avery Johnson was fired back on December 27th, the Nets have surged under interim coach PJ Carlesimo. Joe Johnson has exploded in his production and efficiency (though he has regressed in recent games), Deron Williams' production began to increase, the Nets were moving the ball well, and they have begun to look like the team that people expected them to be in the preseason. Their overall record since Avery Johnson's firing is 13-5 with only one home loss.
Chicago comes into this game also having gone 13-5 since December 27th and boasts the league's best road record at 13-6. While Carlos Boozer's exceptional production from the beginning of January has (expectedly) disappeared, the Bulls have continued to find a way to get things done. Joakim Noah continues to dominate the boards and remains the best passing big man in the league,
Kirk Hinrich has shown flashes of days past with excellent shooting nights, Nate Robinson makes miracle shots, and of course Jimmy Butler continues to be lead the Bulls in TS%, eFG%, Offensive Win Shares and WS/48 while also having the lowest TO% and Usage% according to Basketball Reference (thank you to Brian for bringing those stats my attention).
The game should be a fun one to watch as both of these teams come in having been assembled through different motives. While the Bulls roster is currently over the tax, Jerry Reinsdorf, Gar Foreman, and Jon Paxson assembled the roster with the hopes of avoiding the punitive luxury tax. Then you have the Brooklyn Nets who spared no expense to obtain all of their players and are well above the tax threshold. Now that both teams are playing well, we're about to find out who was the wiser team.
Starting power forward Carlos Boozer may remain sidelined again with an injured hamstring. No official announcement has been made about his availability for tonight's game. Should he miss, Taj Gibson will start once again leaving the bench starved for big men. Boozer's injury could result in Chicago playing some small ball again with Deng at the four with Butler at the three. It'll be interesting to see how Thibodeau manages the roster this time around.
Kirk Hinirich is out for tonight's game. Joakim Noah is questionable
Key Matchup: Joakim Noah vs Brook Lopez
Both players have been having stellar years for their teams and both have rightly been honored with being named to their first All-Star teams. Lopez is averaging just under 20 points and only 8 rebounds per game, he's been extremely efficient every time he has touched the ball wasting no possession. His PER coming into tonight is 25.40, the best amongst big men. However, his defense leaves something to be desired which could hurt the Nets when players like Jimmy Butler penetrate the paint. Noah on the other hand hasn't necessarily been an offensive monster this season but has dominated just about everything else. This season Noah has experienced a drop in his shooting in just about every per game and advanced statistic category, possibly due to the significantly added minutes, but has managed to make up for that by improving his post passing, crashing the boards harder, and playing better post defense despite Carlos Boozer being on the floor. This battle is truly offense versus defense and could be the biggest battle in the game tonight.
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