Where: United Center, Chicago
When: 5:30 PT
Who: Los Angeles Clippers (36-25) at Chicago Bulls (31-30)
How to Watch: ABC
The Big Picture: Oh no, we suck again. The Clippers have now lost two games in a row, both in embarrassing fashion—a massacre at home against Houston, and an also not-close loss at Milwaukee. They now sit a mere ½ game up on Memphis for the 5th seed, and OKC lurks just another ½ game back of them. To be fair, the Clippers would like to avoid playing Golden State in the 2nd round of the playoffs… but if they keep playing like this, even making the 2nd round would be a surprise of sorts. The bench has completely fallen apart, the starters aren’t clicking like they were at the start of the season, and Doc appears to be out of answers. Things aren’t great in Clipper land. On the other hand, with how mercurial this team is, it wouldn’t be altogether shocking if they ripped off a six or seven game win streak either. That a team as talented and experienced as the Clippers is so inconsistent is what makes them so entirely frustrating. It might just be that’s what it is at this point in the Doc-Griffin-Paul era, though.
The Antagonist: The Bulls are somehow a game over .500, and currently sit in the 6th spot in the Eastern Conference. They have done so despite not possessing a single rotation quality NBA point guard, truly a miracle in the modern NBA. Jimmy Butler has made the leap from star to superstar this season (whether it’s a permanent improvement remains to be seen), and has absolutely put his team on his back. Dwyane Wade is still capable of greatness, but he’s well into the twilight of his career, and defense is now a thing of the past. Honestly, the second-best player on the Bulls is probably Robin Lopez, whose workmanlike game on both ends of the court makes him one of the NBA’s more under-appreciated players. After those three, it’s mostly poorly-performing youngsters (Bobby Portis, Cam Payne, Michael Carter-Williams) or brutally bad veterans (Nikola Mirotic, Rajon Rondo). I still don’t understand how they are 31-30, especially since Coach Fred Hoiberg has proven himself seemingly inept at the NBA level. Truly, the Bulls are a conundrum, capable of beating the Warriors on one night and losing to the Lakers the next. The Clippers have the advantage at almost every position, but the Bulls are definitely capable of sneaking out a victory against a superior team.
· Fall of Rajon—Rajon Rondo was one of the best point guards (players, even) in the NBA not too long ago. Now he’s scrapping for minutes with the likes of Payne and Carter-Williams on a mediocre Bulls team. His inability to shoot or score at the rim has turned him into a non-threat on the offensive end, and his defensive effort comes and goes like the tide. Just two years ago, the Mavericks gave up a ton of assets to fit him in as their missing piece to a title. Rondo might not even be in the NBA next year.
· Bench Disaster—The Clippers’ bench was horrific against the Bucks on Friday, with all four rotation players (Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, Mo Speights, and Raymond Felton) being massive negatives in +/-. They couldn’t score the ball, turned the ball over at a truly impressive rate, and gave up points almost every possession on the defensive end. Whatever magic there was at the start of the season seems to be gone, though the Clippers can still hope that once everyone regains their old roles, the bench might coalesce again.
· Bulls Makin’ Moves—Unlike the Clippers, who sat pat at the trade deadline, the Bulls decided they wanted to change their roster around a bit. Sadly, in typical Bulls’ fashion, they made a horrid deal, sending away heart-and-soul of the team (as well as pretty good basketball player) Taj Gibson (along with Doug McDermott) for Cam Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Anthony Morrow from the Thunder. Payne is young, but awful. Lauvergne is young-ish and mediocre at best. Morrow is old and past his prime. Did I mention the Bulls actually gave up a 2nd round pick in the process? Well, they did, and Bulls’ fans were outraged (as usual). It’s not a great time to be a Bulls’ fan either, I suppose.
· Connections—Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade are inaugural members of Team Banana Boat. Jamal Crawford played for the Bulls from 2000-2004, back when he was as young as he looked. Rajon Rondo and Doc Rivers won a ring together on the Celtics back in 2008. Oh, and Paul Pierce was on that team too.
· The Enemy: Check out the Bulls’ perspective over at Blog-a-Bull, a site full of hilarious members who hate their front office far, far more than Clippers’ fans do.