Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 7:30 PM PT
How to watch/listen: NBA TV, Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups:
Bulls: Kris Dunn – Zach LaVine – Otto Porter – Lauri Markkanen – Robin Lopez
Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Pat Beverley – Landry Shamet – Danilo Gallinari – Ivica Zubac
Bulls: Zach Lavine Probable (Knee), Otto Porter Probable (Knee), Wendell Carter Jr. Out (Thumb), Denzel Valentine Out (Ankle), Chandler Hutchison Out (Toe)
Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute Out (Knee)
The Big Picture:
The Clippers are back in the 8th seed after a loss and wins by the Spurs and Jazz, but their chances at reaching the postseason continue to rise. The Lakers and Wolves have fallen away, leaving the Kings as the lone threat. However, the Kings are five full games back, and the Clippers have the tiebreaker as well. It would take a truly momentous collapse by the Clippers paired with an awe-inspiring Kings run for the Clips to miss at this point. Therefore, from now on, games will be played for postseason matchup jockeying. Nobody wants to play the Warriors, and while the Nuggets are only a game back, the Clippers should try to get the 7 seed. That means winning as many games as possible without completely burning out their best players.
The Bulls have a 19-50 record, making them one of the worst teams in the NBA. But that’s a bit misleading. Since they shipped away the negative impact Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker for the quite good Otto Porter (Wiz!!!), they’re 7-8, and that’s including games that Porter and Zach LaVine have missed due to injuries. The new Bulls still aren’t good, per se, but they’re not awful either. LaVine is an explosive, dangerous scorer (if still rather one-dimensional), Markkanen is a very talented young big man, and Porter is the kind of quietly competent player the Bulls have lacked for years. This is not a game that the Clippers can take lightly.
Stopping LaVine is key: While the Bulls have some good players, the only player on their team who’s truly scary on the right night is LaVine, who can look unstoppable when his outside shot is falling. Pat Beverley gives up some size to LaVine, but he’s defended bigger, stronger players with aplomb over the past few weeks, and he should be the best option on Zach. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s length could also be useful for contesting shots, and I’d be interested to see him get a crack at LaVine, especially if Beverley gets into foul trouble.
Could be a big night for Lou-Trez: While Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are a threat to combust in any game, they should have a very nice matchup against the Bulls. The Bulls lack a perimeter stopper or anyone who can really keep up with LaVine (Dunn is probably their best bet), and none of their big men are super quick, either at staying with guys like Harrell, or keeping up with Lou if switched in the pick and roll. The Lou-Trez pick and roll is a staple for the Clippers, and it’s one they should go to early and often against the Bulls. I don’t expect the Bulls to have a real answer for it.
Doc rotation experimenting: While the Bulls aren’t awful with a fully healthy complement of starters, this is hopefully a game that the Clippers have in hand for most of the contest. This should not only enable Doc to rest some key players, but also experiment some with lineups. He’s toyed around more with Shai-Lou-Beverley lineups in recent games, and I’m intrigued by that. Also, while Wilson Chandler played at the 4 last game with Gallinari sitting out, he might get some run at the 3 in this one alongside JaMychal Green. The Clippers need to try to give him reps to get him back into game shape, and see if he can be a part of their rotation down the stretch.
Check out Blog a Bull for the Bulls’ perspective, and come back tonight for the game thread!