|2010/2011 NBA Regular Season|
|December 18th, 2010, 5:00 PM|
|FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
The Back Story:
First meeting of the season. The Clippers swept two games last season.
The Big Picture:
Since the Clippers clearly can't win close games, they had to come out last night in Detroit and blow the Pistons out to ensure they'd get their first road win of the season. It had to feel good, particularly because they got solid contributions up and down the roster, something that hasn't happened a lot this season. Eric Bledsoe, starting in place of Baron Davis who was battling illness, played well, as did Davis off the bench. Eric Gordon was held below 20 points for the second straight game, but it didn't matter as EJ didn't force things, and great shots were available for teammates all game long. It won't be nearly as easy getting their second win tonight in Chicago. The Bulls have won seven straight and are playing at home on two days rest, while the Clippers are on a back to back. That would usually be an automatic loss, for almost any team, let alone a 6-21 team. But if they can get a balanced effort again, and Blake Griffin can continue the amazing roll that he's on, they might catch the Bulls by surprise. One big advantage to blowing the Pistons out was that the starters got some rest in the fourth quarter last night. The bad news is that they'll be without Brian Cook, who sprained his ankle in the final minute.
The Bulls are on a seven game win streak, but they're also entering some unknown territory as of today. Starting center Joakim Noah, the team's leading rebounder and the fifth best rebounder in the league, had surgery on his thumb a couple of days ago and is expected to miss eight to ten weeks. Noah isn't just a rebounder to the Bulls - he's their energy guy and clearly has a major impact for the team. When Noah missed games last March, the Bulls lost 10 straight without him. This is a better Bulls team - but you might imagine they're still pretty nervous entering a stretch of two months without the guy. Not to mention that last season they had Brad Miller to step in - this year, the backup center is untested Turkish rookie, Omer Asik. The biggest difference is that this year the team belongs almost exclusively to Derrick Rose, who is having a monster season in his third year in the league. He's averaging almost 24 points and over 8 assists per game, and has had seven games of 30 or more on the season. And it's no coincidence that the Bulls went on their recent winning streak after adding Carlos Boozer to the roster. Their big free agent acquisition missed the first 15 games of the season with an injury, but is now back and playing great. Basically, it took him a couple of games to get acclimated, and the Bulls haven't lost since he did. He's coming off a season-high 34 against Toronto on Wednesday. Overall, the Bulls are winning with defense - they rank fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency this season. Noah's length and activity could be a major loss on that end of the floor, so it will be interesting to see how they respond.
- Road blues. The Clippers have two kinds of road blues. Their general blues got a little better last night with their first road win. But in year's past, they've also had alternate blue uniforms they've worn on the road for weekend games. This being a Saturday, they would have been wearing blue last season. But since they introduced new uniforms this season, they're not allowed to introduce a new alternate uniform at the same time, so they'll be wearing red tonight. I don't actually know all the rules about when they can introduce a new alternate - does anyone out there know how that works?
- Replacing Noah. It's really hard to know what Coach Tom Thibodeau is going to do to replace Joakim Noah's minutes in the lineup. Taj Gibson started all of last season and the beginning part of this season while Boozer was hurt at power forward, and he's been productive for them. So they have some quality at the big positions. But a front line of Gibson, Boozer and Luol Deng would leave them very small. Asik, the Turkish rookie, has been underwhelming in limited minutes this season. He's averaging 8 points and 9 rebounds per 36 minutes, but less than three of each per game. The Bulls also have Kurt Thomas, who apparently is not dead, but is 38.
- Rose and Gordon. Derrick Rose and Eric Gordon were Team USA teammates in Turkey this summer (where, coincidentally, they defeated Asik's Turkish team for the Gold medal). Before that, they were AAU opponents. They also both have ties to Illinois, as Rose was a Chicago high school star and is a hometown hero for Bulls fans, while Gordon controversially backed out of his commitment to attend Illinois at the last minute, opting to attend rival Indiana, making him something less than a hero to many Bulls fans. Both benefited greatly from their time on Team USA, and both are having breakout seasons this year. Rose is getting most of the ink, and is mentioned as a possible MVP candidate - he's a lock to be an All Star if he stays healthy. But Gordon has arguably had the bigger improvement. Rose has gone from an 18.6 PER last season, to 21.5 this season; Gordon has improved from 14.1 to 20.5 as measured by PER. Rose is obviously the better distributor; Gordon is better at getting to the free throw line. Ironically, although Gordon is the MUCH better three point shooter based on career numbers and reputation, the two have flipped their three point shooting this season - Rose, a career 24% three point shooter, is shooting 41% this season, while Gordon, a career 38% shooter is mired at 27%.
- Rose's three point shooting. I had read that Rose had been working on his range, and he's certainly getting great results so far, but when I watched him on Team USA over the summer, I was unimpressed. He seems to have a hitch in his jump shot, and it's hard to maintain a great three point shooting percentage with less than great form. I haven't seen him much this season, so maybe he's addressed it. 40 for 97 from beyond the arc so far this season for him is nothing short of shocking to me based on what I saw in Turkey and in his first two seasons in Chicago.
- Defending Rose. The Clippers will probably put their best perimeter defender, Gordon, on Rose. The disadvantage is that EJ could get into foul trouble and will have to expend lots of energy on the defensive end. Even if they don't use EJ on Rose the entire game, I would expect him to be there down the stretch if the game is close.
- Rose banged up? Rose took a tough fall in a game on Monday in Indiana and he sprained his wrist and tweaked his hip and elbow. He played Wednesday versus the Raptors, but had his worst game of the season, scoring only 6 points. He's had two days off to rest up, but it will be interesting to see if he is affected by his various dings. He wore a protective sleeve on Wednesday, but does not plan to wear it tonight.
- Defending EJ. The Pistons defended Eric Gordon with Tayshaun Prince and held him to 15 points, his second lowest total of the season. Other teams have had some success putting length on Gordon as well. It makes some sense - EJ likes to use his strength to bump his defender near the basket, creating enough separation to get his shot off. He also gets to the line a lot that way. A longer defender like Prince can overcome that separation and still bother the shot, and has a better chance of doing so without fouling. The question now is, will the rest of the NBA figure this out? For instance, will the Bulls put Deng on Gordon tonight? Given Ryan Gomes' relatively passive offensive game this season, there's not much downside to putting Keith Bogans on him if you're the Bulls.
- Tom Thibodeau. Last season under head coach Vinny Del Negro, the Bulls were 11th in the NBA in defensive efficiency. This season, with much the same personnel (the major addition being Boozer, who has never been considered a plus defender), they are fourth. What's even more remarkable is that it has happened so quickly. Usually it takes a half a season or more for a new coach to get all of his players on the same page in a new defensive system. In other words, you can expect the Thibodeau Bulls to be much better defenders at the end of the season than they are now. None of this comes as a surprise to people who watched Thibodeau make the Celtics the best defensive team in the league (by a mile) when he was an assistant there. What is a surprise is that it took this long for him to get a head coaching gig in the NBA.
- Del Negro's Return to Chicago. All I can say is I wish I was there for the chance meeting between VDN and John Paxson. I kid, I kid. VDN had two seasons of 41-41 in Chicago in his first two years as an NBA head coach. His new team is way below .500, while his old team is way above .500. Obviously, there are myriad factors in those records, but it's worth noting. It's also interesting that VDN's return coincides with Noah's injury absence - if you'll recall, it was a disagreement over Noah's playing time upon returning from an injury that led to fisticuffs between Paxson and Del Negro last season and likely sealed VDN's fate as a former Bulls coach.
- Griffin. With Noah out, the Bulls will have to defend Griffin with Boozer or Gibson. Boozer doesn't have the length to bother him, nor the lateral quickness to stay with him, but he does have good strength and great hands, so he'll try to strip the ball low. Gibson has better length and quickness, but lacks strength. I don't really see any name on Chicago's roster who is going to be able to check him.
- Cook. Lisa Dillman characterizes him as 'doubtful' for this game. It sounds like from Cook's comments that it's not too severe. It's swollen, but he has some strength in it.
- Bledsoe/Baron. Dain Blanton reported last night that Baron wasn't starting because he had been ill during the day. However, Lisa Dillman made no mention of illness in any or her Tweets or stories. In fact, she said that Baron didn't know he wasn't starting until just before game time. Bledsoe's confidence seemed to benefit from being back in the starting lineup. I don't know that there's anything going on here, but it's a situation to keep an eye on.
- Superstar for one game:
In the fevered state of our country, no good can ever result from any attempt to set one of these fiery zealots to rights, either in fact or principle. They are determined as to the facts they will believe, and the opinions on which they will act. Get by them, therefore, as you would by an angry bull; it is not for a man of sense to dispute the road with such an animal.
- Get the Bulls perspective Blog a Bull.