Saturday, November 3, 2012

Game #3, Bulls-Hornets: The Cupcake Tour Marches On

Chicago Bulls (2-0) vs. New Orleans Hornets (1-1)

The Bulls return to the friendly confines of the United Center after a trip to Cleveland for a game that might have been the biggest rout of this NBA season thus far. The Bulls out-hustled, out-ran, and out-shot a bad Cavaliers team en route to a 29-point victory, taking the Bulls to 2-0. 

The Opponent 
On Saturday night, the Bulls take another decidedly mediocre to bad opponent in the New Orleans Hornets, who have actually acquitted themselves somewhat well thus far. The Hornets lost by four at home against San Antonio to start the season but then pulled out a thrilling 2-point win against the Jazz last night. Greivis Vasquez hit a layup with 1.3 seconds to go after Utah's Paul Millsap hit a trey to tie it on the previous possession. 

Unfortunately for NOLA, #1 overall pick Anthony Davis went out with a mild concussion in the first half of last night's game, and he is not traveling with the team to Chicago. 

Before Davis' injury, NOLA rolled out this starting lineup: SF Al-Farouq Aminu, PG Greivis Vasquez, C Robin Lopez, SG Austin Rivers, and, of course, Davis. With Davis out, former Orlando sharp-shooter Ryan Anderson or the 7'0'' Jason Smith will slide into the lineup at the 4. 

Davis boasted a lofty 26.3 PER rating in his less than 1.5 games, and the dropoff after him is not insignificant. (Vasquez comes in second at 17.9). 

Small sample size and all, but other than Anderson, the Hornets do not shoot the three particularly well. Anderson is 43% from outside, and he'll probably hit a few tonight as well, whether in transition or on the rare Bulls defensive breakdown (they happen, just not often). Otherwise, nobody else seems to shoot it well, but, then again, Anderson has taken close to half of NOLA's trey do date. 

Despite the loss of Davis, the Hornets still boast another solid inside presence in Robin Lopez, acquired from Phoenix via trade. During his four seasons in Phoenix, Lopez was never much of a scoring threat, never averaging double digit points a single time. However, through two games he's averaging 13.5, in addition to 8 boards per (3 of the offensive variety). Again, small sample size caveats apply, but maybe this is the year that Lopez becomes a more well-rounded player on the offensive end. 

Of course, the Hornets are still without the services of Eric Gordon, who is out for 4-6 weeks with a knee injury. 

Maryland product Greivis Vasquez--who NOLA acquired from Memphis to fill the backup spot behind Gordon--has also had a nice start to his 2012-13 season, dropping a total of 23 dimes through just two games. He is a more than capable distributor, so the Bulls will want to avoid letting Vasquez operate in transition. One way of doing this is by doing what they did last night in Cleveland: forcing turnovers/long rebounds and going on the break themselves for some easy scores. 

Points of Concern 
With both Davis and Gordon out, the Hornets don't offer much that should put a serious score into the Bulls, even without Rose. However, as mentioned, the Bulls will need to make sure that Vasquez doesn't do his thing in the transition game. 

Additionally, Ryan Anderson is always a concern for any team from beyond the arc. He scored 15 of his 19 points last night from downtown, and even the Bulls will leave a guy open on the perimeter from time to time (note: if that guy is Luke Walton, then by all means LEAVE HIM OPEN). 

If this were any other team, Robin Lopez doing work on the offensive glass would be a concern; luckily, this is the Bulls we're talking about here. 

The rookie shooting guard from Duke, Austin Rivers, has gotten off to a horrific 1-13 start from the field through two games. This isn't so much of a concern as it is me hoping that this isn't the game that Rivers finds his shot. 

What Needs To Happen 
  • DO. YOUR. JOB. Pretty simple. If the Bulls do all of the things that the Bulls typically do on defense and the offensive glass, I have a hard time imagining the Hornets cracking 90 points. 
  • Find the shooter. The only way I see the Hornets hanging around late into the fourth quarter is if Anderson catches fire, as he is wont to do. Whoever is on him (Deng?) will need to make sure to go over screens and generally give him the business, without fouling of course. 
  • Dives and cuts. With NOLA lacking Davis' presence in the paint, the Bulls should be able to make hay on hard cuts and dives from whoever the second post player is. Noah made a nice cut through the heart of the paint for a score against Cleveland when Boozer occupied the right block. That will likely be there again. Lopez can swat some shots, but he is not Davis. 

Useless Prediction Time 
  • Captain Kirk hits some threes: he goes 2/3 on the day. 
  • Vasquez does not get into double digit assist sounds right. 
  • Ryan Anderson starts off hot from 3 but tails off as the game goes on. 
  • Bulls 98, Hornets 88

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