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Game Preview: Clippers Get Their First Shot Against New-Look Chicago Bulls

For the first time ever, Dwyane Wade will come STAPLES Center in a Bulls uniform.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture:

Things haven’t been going great for the Clippers lately—which is a helluva line to write about a team that’s leading the NBA at 11-2. In their last two games, the Clippers lost to the Memphis Grizzlies and almost blew a 20-point lead against the lowly Sacramento Kings. In the three games before that, L.A. gave up 108 points to Oklahoma City, 105 points to Minnesota, and 95 points to a Brooklyn Nets squad that was missing Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez. Those aren’t great defensive performances for a team that jumped out early in the year and made a name for themselves as the league’s best defense.

Some minor injuries and the need for adjustments are beginning to take a toll on the Clippers, who haven’t had consecutive days off to practice in three weeks. They won’t get another chance to practice for nine more games, including a six-game road trip. If the team can’t reverse their recent slippage without a practice, it could be a rough stretch.

The Antagonist:

These aren’t your grandfather’s Chicago Bulls. Actually, they aren’t even your guy-that’s-one-year-older-than-you’s Chicago Bulls. Derrick Rose, who was the first league MVP in Chicago since Michael Jordan, is gone. Hometown hero Dwyane Wade came to the Bulls after a thirteen-year, Hall-of-Fame caliber career with the Miami Heat, and he’s joined by fellow newcomers Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez in the starting lineup. Make no mistake, this team’s featured star is still Jimmy Butler, but key members of the supporting cast have changed, reshaping this team’s identity.

Despite worries about how all of the new pieces would fit together, the Bulls are off to a successful 8-4 start in the Eastern Conference. If regression is coming, it could hit hard—but for a confident Bulls squad, tonight’s game against the league-leading Clippers is an opportunity to prove their legitimacy as a team with championship aspirations.

Game Notes:

  • Hot start: Dwyane Wade, for all of his accomplishments, has never been a three-point shooter. Last season, Wade shot just 15.9% (7-44) from deep. This year, he’s already had a better time: 33.3% (12-36). That might be misleading, though: Wade’s 12 makes have come in only four games, including two hot shooting nights in the Bulls’ first five games. In their last 7 games, Wade is just 2-17 from beyond the arc.
  • No Rest for the Clippers: L.A. played last night in Sacramento, and after a hard-fought win, traveled back to southern California for this game. The Bulls, on the other hand, had an off day after winning in Utah on Thursday night. The Clippers haven’t had two days off in a row in the month of November, and their big three played big minutes last night—they’ll have to overcome some tired legs to get a win tonight.
  • Chris Paul’s shoulder: The Clippers’ star point guard has been affected recently by a minor shoulder injury that he suffered on Wednesday against Memphis. He’s still had a positive impact on both games, but his shot has been off and he’s seemed to shy away from shooting in general, looking to facilitate the offense for others and play defense. The sooner that Chris can start scoring again, the sooner this offense will shift into a higher gear.
  • Connections: Doc Rivers coached Rajon Rondo in Boston, where they won a championship together. Clippers reserves Paul Pierce and Brandon Bass were both also teammates of Rondo in Boston. Jamal Crawford played for the Bulls for the first four seasons of his career.
  • Opposing Perspective: I don’t see a game preview up yet, but you can check out Blog a Bull for the Chicagoan’s view of this match-up.