On the Bulls: Blog a Bull
Milwaukee kicks off their season series against the new-look Chicago Bulls seeking to upset a team that has rounded into one of the East's best. Two months ago, the popular question was which of these two teams had the inside track toward winning the Central. Today, it seems more likely the Bulls will win the East than Milwaukee the division. Still, there should be no lack of motivation for Milwaukee following last night's torching by the Hawks.
Boykins suspended one game. Earl Boykins has been suspended one game for making inappropriate contact with an official during last night's game. Boykins received his first career technical for the act and will miss tonight's game. Hopefully the Bucks can overcome the loss of Boykins' recent scoring prowess.
Bulls roster incomplete. The most obvious issue with Chicago's current lineup is the absence of Joakim Noah, recovering from his December 16th thumb surgery. In his absence, new arrival Carlos Boozer has picked up much of the slack inside, averaging over 25 PPG and 11 RPG. Boozer missed some time at the beginning of the season due to injury, but hasn't seemed to missed a beat since returning. Noah's defense is often praised (as it should be), yet this season the Bulls' DRtg is 8.3 points better when Noah is on the bench - an interesting stat, one that doesn't quite seem to pass the eye-test. Regardless, ex-Celtics assistant and defensive guru Tom Thibodeau has undeniably done his thing in Chicago, lowering Chicago's DRtg almost 5 points so far this season to 97.7, third best in the NBA.
The other issue has been at the two spot, where Keith Bogans has started every game to limited effect. It's difficult to call Bogans anything more than a placeholder - his 11.1 USG% is higher than only Brian Scalabrine's 9.28. Blog a Bull questions whether or not Chicago should deal for a new shooting guard or try to patch things up internally. Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer have taken most of the remaining minutes at the two.
No dream PG matchup. Ask any casual NBA fan what the best matchup in a Bulls/Bucks game would be, chances are they'd point to the point, with the speedy Jennings checking the athletic Rose. Tonight, that matchup figures to be at least slightly less compelling, as the electrifying Derrick Rose will be matched up against Keyon Dooling. In 8 career games against Milwaukee, Rose is averaging 8.1 assists per game, most against any opponent. Whether this reflects good defense on Rose himself or bad defense on Chicago's other playmakers is difficult to say, but the Bulls aren't short on offensive weapons these days, meaning the Bucks will have to be disciplined on defense for 48 minutes (42 if you're Zach Randolph).
Defending Rose. Going a little more in-depth, K.C. Johnson at the Chicago Tribune highlights how Derrick Rose's game has changed this year. Rose has turned into somewhat of a volume-scorer, averaging a career high in points this season. But his assists and rebounds are also up, showing an all-around improvement in his game that makes him one of the best guards in the league. Yet the Bulls have had issues spacing the floor for Rose, leading to turnover issues as he is forced to be more aggressive with the ball. Rose has 13 turnovers in his last two games, and while Jennings' quick hands and feet won't be there to bother him, the Bucks still have options to frustrate him. While Andrew Bogut is on the floor, Milwaukee can afford to play up on Rose and look to disrupt his passing and ball handling, knowing that they have a very skilled defender guarding the rim. Derrick is always quick to get to the basket, but doesn't get to the line as much as many people think he should. While Chicago can score from almost every position, the offense unquestionably runs through Rose, so disrupting his game is key.
CDR frustrated, looking to snap out of funk. Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal hears from Chris Douglas-Roberts about his recent struggles. CDR had a (predictably) difficult time checking Josh Smith last night and wound up playing only 15 ineffective minutes. Smith presents a very difficult matchup for just about every player in the NBA, but Douglas-Roberts knows that his team needs strong performances out of him to be competitive.
Running on adrenaline. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Scott Skiles' minutes management last night was particularly noteworthy: it was only the second time this season that a team played their starting backcourt and center for over 40 minutes each in a game. The New York Knicks did the same against Denver on December 12. The first night of a back-to-back is an unfortunate time to play heavy minutes, so hopefully those guys got a good night's sleep.
Stat of Encouragement. Kurt Thomas, who has moved into the Bulls' starting lineup in Noah's absence, is giving up 21 points and 13.5 rebounds per 48 minutes to opposing centers when manning the pivot.