|2010/2011 NBA Regular Season|
|February 2nd, 2011, 7:30 PM|
|FSN West, KFWB 980 AM
The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
The Clippers open the month of February with a home game - and spend pretty much the rest of the month on the road. In fact, the don't have a "home stand" (i.e. two consecutive games on the same court) the entire month, which surely must be some sort of record. The play one game here against the Bulls followed by their Odyssey, and another home game on February 26th, followed by a trip up to Sacramento. They do at least get two games in a row in LA, playing an away game against the Lakers prior to the Celtics game. But back to the game at hand - the Clippers have won nine straight home games, a record in their LA history, while the Bulls have won five straight overall. LA is still missing leading scorer Eric Gordon, and without him it may be difficult to crack Chicago's stingy defense. Blake Griffin will do his part; Griffin just finished one of the great months of all time for a rookie. In January he averaged 26 points, 13.4 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game, while shooting over 50% from the field. He even cranked up his free throw shooting to 69% for the month. He'll need help tonight of course. Randy Foye has been terrific filling in for Gordon - he's scored 20 or more in three straight, and is averaging 19 per as the starter these last four games. Baron Davis has been great in the last two wins, and will need to come up big against Derrick Rose tonight. DeAndre Jordan will also have a big responsibility, both defending Carlos Boozer and protecting when Rose penetrates. If Ryan Gomes and the bench can step up as well, it would be a welcome bonus.
The Bulls are on a five game winning streak, and have been red hot for two full months really. They've won 24 of their last 30 games, a winning percentage of .800. Strangely, five of the six losses in that stretch have come against teams below .500, including a loss to the Clippers and two to the Bobcats. Do they take some teams lightly? Do some teams just have their number? It's hard to say. Like the Clippers with Griffin and Gordon (when healthy), the Bulls have a terrific inside-outside combination in Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer. Rose leads the team in scoring at over 24 per game, but Boozer scores almost as much on a per minute basis (22.3 per 36 minutes) and does so extremely efficiently, shooting 54.6% from the field. Those two and Luol Deng (17.6 per game) carry the bulk of the offensive load for the team, and they leave the rest to their defense. The Bulls are ranked first in the league in defensive efficiency under first year head coach Tom Thibodeau. It's possible that guy knows what he's doing, as he was the Celtics defensive coordinator as an assistant there when Boston had the best defense in the league.
- Griffin. Blake Griffin has improved his scoring each month of the season, from 21 points per game in November to 23 points per game in December to 26 points per game in January. Can he possibly continue to improve in February, with the bar now set so high? He was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for January yesterday. Duh.
- Boozer All Star? The East, in contrast to the West, does not have a long list of worthy All Stars. In fact, someone is going to make the team despite some noticeable warts on their resume. That could be Boozer, whose numbers are great, but who missed the first 15 games of the season and 3 more a couple of weeks ago. Still, with few better options to choose from and the Bulls sitting on 33 wins, Boozer may get the nod.
- Derrick Rose, Superstar. From his starring role during Team USA's Gold Medal run in Turkey to being voted the Eastern Conference All Star starter at the point guard, Derrick Rose has joined the upper echelon of mega stars this year. I hate to nitpick, but he's done it while his shooting percentage has decreased and his turnovers have increased. Is he that much better than he was last year? Or is he just handling the ball a lot more and shooting a lot more?
- DVR Alert. This game is on FSN West, not Prime Ticket. If you're like me and you have a series set up on Prime Ticket for all the games, make sure and record this one if you won't be around tonight.
- The road to 41. We haven't talked much about the idea of making it to 41 wins and a .500 record since the team lost four straight on the road. With so many road games left, they obviously can't get to .500 if they can't win away from home. Having said that, the original idea was that they'd have to go 13-3 in their final 16 games in Staples. Obviously, they've got a good start on that goal. There are four teams with winning records left on the home schedule, starting tonight with the Bulls. Getting this win might make up for a road loss somewhere else.
- 6-21. I tend to cut and paste from prior previews when the teams meet again, which saves me time typing rosters and what not. (Some of you have picked up on the fact that I sometimes reuse bullets as well.) Well, in the December 18 Clippers-Bulls preview, the Clippers' record was 6-21. I mean, of course I knew that, but when you see it there, and realize that the team has gone 13-7 since (really 14-7 since the prior game in Detroit), it's pretty shocking - but in a good way.
- Kurt Thomas. Thomas, the second oldest player in the NBA after Shaquille O'Neal, had played 13 minutes on the season prior to the first meeting between these two teams. However, since Joakim Noah's injury, Thomas has become a key part of the Bulls lineup, starting every game since the Clippers game. He looked TERRIBLE against LA - he fouled out in 16 minutes, and looked nailed to the floor against Griffin (who is 17 years younger than Thomas after all). Improbably, Thomas actually scored 22 points against Milwaukee 10 days ago; it was the first time in almost six years that he had scored 20 points in a game. Thomas is a crafty post defender and was at one point one of the best in the business; but he's 38, and it's hard to imagine that he can do anything to stop Griffin. How the refs call the game may play a major role in the outcome - if Griffin gets the Chicago front line in foul trouble again, it will be a major benefit for the Clippers.
- Taj Gibson. Gibson, the first big off the bench for the Bulls, turned an ankle in there last game against the Pacers. He's listed as probable for this game, and I assume he'll play since he practiced yesterday. If he's limited, it could hurt the Bulls, who will need him to help contend with Blake Griffin. Foul trouble for the Chicago bigs was a major factor in the first meeting. None of them could keep up with Griffin, and Gibson, Boozer, Thomas and Omer Asik all had foul trouble.
- Keith Bogans. It's hard not to notice that Keith Bogans is the starting shooting guard for a team with 33 wins. I was wondering if Bogans was the worst starter in the NBA, and there's certainly an argument to be made for it. Among players who have started at least 30 games this season, he's last in scoring at 3.6 points per game, last in PER at 7.1, and plays a mere 17.5 minutes per game. One wonders in fact why he remains the starter when Ronnie Brewer plays more.
- Ryan Gomes. Of course it's also hard not to notice that Ryan Gomes has the fifth lowest PER in the league among players who have started at least 30 games.
- 30 win teams. There are ten teams in the NBA with 30 wins; the Clippers have beaten six of the nine they've faced (they have yet to play Boston). The Clippers have of course already beaten the Bulls in Chicagod, so they should have plenty of confidence playing them at home where they have a nine game winning streak. What they haven't done is beat a top team without Eric Gordon in the lineup. This is a tall order.
- Rose's three point shooting. I criticized Rose's shooting form a little before the first meeting, and I suspected that his three point shooting would taper off some. Indeed it has. He was 40 for 97 (41%) at the time of the first game - he's 28 for 89 (31%) in his last 21. He's still much better than he was in his first two seasons in the league, but I'm not convinced that it's a shot he really should be taking a lot. He's more of threat now than he has ever been, but he's still most dangerous when he's taking the ball to the hole.
- Defending Rose. Without Gordon, the Clippers will have a difficult time staying in front of Rose. The assignment will probably go to Baron Davis, but Foye will likely take a turn as well. This may be the place were Gordon's absence is felt most strongly.
- Rose Ulcers. They didn't really seem to slow him down much, but it now seems like Rose's stomach ulcers are behind him, at least for the time being.
- 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 first. What's even more remarkable is that it has happened so quickly, and for a good portion of the season without their best defender, Joakim Noah.. 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 and Chicago. VDN made no secret of the fact that he enjoyed beating the Bulls back in December. After leading Chicago to consecutive playoff appearances and then being fired, one suspects that Vinny has plenty of extra incentive against his former team.
- Superstar for one game:
People do not know their own faults, just as bulls do not know their own strength
- Get the Bulls perspective Blog a Bull.