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Clippers storm Chicago to do some running with the Bulls

One team is riding a three game winning streak while the other is riding a three game losing streak. If the Los Angeles Clippers are to upend the Chicago Bulls, they'll need to be on their A-game.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

On the bright side of things for the Los Angeles Clippers, the team has won three straight games. As they head into Thursday night’s battle against the Chicago Bulls, it is best to be reminded that the Clippers have won five straight games at United Center alone. They’ll look to make it a sixth straight game as the two teams square off on national television. For the Bulls, they’re looking to end a season-worst three game losing streak. It won’t be an easy game for either side.

There’s zero doubt that the best player on Chicago is Jimmy Butler. It’s been apparent for quite some time. On the year, the menacing two-way wing is averaging 21.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.8 steals, and 0.8 blocks on 45.6 percent from the floor and 36.1 percent from deep. There aren’t too many more capable wings in the league than Butler. His ability to spot-up shoot, shoot off the dribble, create off the dribble, and do every single thing the team needs cannot be undersold. Last year at STAPLES Center, Butler ate Clipper wings alive in the post possession after possession as a scorer and a passer. Shutting him down won’t be easy, but it’ll be required. Butler is the catalyst.

As far as good news for the Bulls, that’s pretty much where it ends. They struggle in a lot of other areas, and it’s hard to pinpoint who their second best player might be. Pau Gasol is averaging 14.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.2 blocks on 44.0 percent shooting. The Spaniard is still a serviceable mid-range shooter seeing as he’s shooting 41.6 percent on mid-range shots this season, and 42.5 percent from 16-to-24 feet. As always, the Clippers need to respect his jumper and make sure to keep him off the offensive glass. Boxing out is a must. Gasol still rates as a solid rim protector, as well. If the Clippers are to win, they can’t let Gasol impact the game on both ends. One is fine, both is not.

Opposition's Blog: Blog a Bull

The former MVP of the league, Derrick Rose, is struggling. He’s averaging just 13.6 points, 5.9 assists, and 3.6 rebounds, but his woeful shooting is the real story. Rose is converting on just 35.9 percent of his overall shots, and just a horrendous 22.7 percent of his shots from three. His once solid mid-range jumper is even gone, as he’s shooting just 29.8 percent from 16-to-24 feet. The phrase “massive disappointment” comes immediately to mind when discussing Rose’s season. He’s still a solid defender, but his value used to be on the offensive end and yet that value isn’t there anymore. As an aside, this will be Rose’s first game against the Los Angeles Clippers since December 30, 2011. Nearly four years have gone by since Rose last played against them – and it’s safe to say that a lot has changed.

The only other player averaging double-digit points for the Bulls is second-year forward Nikola Mirotic. The highly-touted shooting big man has helped the team, but not in the shooting department that much. He’s shooting just 39.0 percent on the year, and only 32.7 percent from deep. To compound that issue, Mirotic is shooting just 26.7 percent from three at home this season. Mirotic is averaging 11.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.6 assists, but his shooting has to pickup for the Bulls to come out of their little slump. Because he can stretch the floor, the Clippers do need to keep an eye on him when he is in the game on the off-chance that he actually comes out of his cocoon in this game.

To round out the Bulls, Tony Snell and Taj Gibson are now in the starting lineup. Snell has started 15 games, but only averages 5.8 points on 34.9 percent shooting (45.6 percent from three). The Bulls have a 93.6 Defensive Rating when Snell is on the court, but just 100.4 without him. Gibson is averaging 6.7 points and 5.7 rebounds, and the team is better defensively with him on the floor. Doug McDermott finally found his shot, and he’s averaging 9.4 points on 47.6 percent overall, as well as from three. Joakim Noah, a former Defensive Player of the Year, is averaging just 3.4 points, but he’s hauling in 8.3 rebounds while dishing out 3.6 assists. Even though they’re scuffling, the Bulls will not be an easy opponent. They present serious defensive issues for the Clippers, and only a sound gameplan will win this game.

2015/2016 NBA Regular Season
Los Angeles Clippers (13-9)

Chicago Bulls (11-8)
December 10, 2015 | 5:00 PM (PDT)
United Center (Chicago, Illinois)
TNT, Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Projected Starters
Chris Paul PG Derrick Rose
J.J. Redick SG Jimmy Butler
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute SF Tony Snell
Blake Griffin PF Taj Gibson
DeAndre Jordan C Pau Gasol
Advanced Stats (2015-2016 Regular Season)
99.31 (12th of 30) Pace 100.3 (7th of 30)
104.3 (5th of 30) ORtg 97.4 (28th of 30)
101.5 (16th of 30) DRtg 97.3 (4th of 30)

Mike Dunleavy (Out) Back

Leading the charge for the Clippers, as always, is Blake Griffin. The power forward is averaging 24.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 4.9 assists on 52.0 percent shooting. The issue is that he’s shooting just 29 percent from 16-to-24 feet over the last 7 games. He’s struggling in a big way despite him hauling in 12.7 rebounds per game over the last three Clipper games. Griffin’s shot needs to come back, and it needs to come back soon. The team needs it.

In last night’s win against the Milwaukee Bucks, J.J. Redick came in and dropped 31 points on his old team. The shooting guard is now averaging 14.4 points on a sparkling 47.3 percent overall and 45.2 percent from beyond the arc. His movement opens up everything for the offense. The team boasts a 111.7 Offensive Rating with Redick on the court, and he sports a +12.2 Net Rating when on the court. Both of those, the Offensive Rating and Net Rating, lead the team. That speaks volumes to his importance.

Chris Paul dazzled during last night’s game, piling up 18 points and 18 assists in 38 minutes. The assist total wasn’t just a season-high for him, but it was most assists he’s had in a game since he became a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. Paul has struggled with his shot this season, and whether that’s because of injuries that have plagued him early in the year or because he’s declining is to be seen, but he’s still one of the best in the game at his position. Paul’s averaging 16.9 points, 8.6 assists, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.7 steals on 45.9 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from three. You can’t doubt his heart. He gives it his all out there.

Past Game Previews: 2015-16 Game Previews

Still one of the game’s premier athletes, center DeAndre Jordan is averaging 11.0 points, 13.4 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks on 68.8 percent shooting. Unfortunately, his 38.5 percent mark from the free throw line leaves him and the team prone to the Hack-a-Jordan strategy – and it’s something that teams have done quite often this season. Jordan put up just 9 points last night, but he had 19 rebounds. Jordan’s not there for the scoring. Instead, he’s there for the defense and windex work. Over the last five games, Jordan has averaged 12.8 points, 16.8 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks. The team needs him to keep up that level of play.

The unsung hero on this team might be Wesley Johnson. The wing is averaging just 5.7 points per game, but he’s shooting 50.0 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from three while providing hard work on defense and hustle. It’s hard to put a value on how much Johnson has meant to the team. When put into a lineup with the Core Four starters, Johnson and the group have a +19.5 Net Rating in 68 minutes – and they’re pulling down 51.9 percent of all available rebounds. The spacing Johnson has provided as a corner shooter has been awesome, as well. There isn’t enough adequate time to talk about how great he’s been as an acquisition.

Among the rest, Luc Mbah a Moute is averaging just 1.6 points, but he’s giving the team veteran grit on the wing as he tries his best to defend and rebound. The Core Four plus Mbah a Moute have a Net Rating of +10.5 in 73 minutes. Jamal Crawford is averaging 13.2 points, but he’s still shooting a porous 36.9 percent overall. He has his offensive outbursts, but they’re not as frequent. Austin Rivers, Josh Smith, and Lance Stephenson are all part of a bench unit that struggles to score, but at least they compete defensively. Smith and head coach Doc Rivers had a verbal spat last night, but Smith later returned to the floor to help the team in a big way. The fringe players need to show up if the team wants to keep this winning streak rolling.