Friday, January 11, 2013

Game No. 34 Preview, Bulls-Knicks: King of the Hill, Top of the Heap Pt. 3

Chicago Bulls (19-14) @ New York Knicks (23-12)

So, here we are again. Despite the Knicks' somewhat surprising season (I actually had a feeling they'd be pretty good, but not this good), they've struggled against the Bulls, dropping a game in both Chicago (Dec. 8) and more recently in New York (Dec. 21). In case you forgot, this happened the last time these two teams met: 

Good times. People were forced to go on timeout and many bad words were said. This just about sums up the New York perspective of this particular game: 

 The Bulls ambushed the Knicks with a 14-2 start and continued to lay it on as the game went on. Only at the end, after all Noah, Chandler, Anthony and head coach Mike Woodson did the Knicks mount a comeback of sorts that made the final score look much closer than the game actually was.

Chicago's aggressive defense frustrated the Knicks' potent attack, which, based on following several Knicks folks on Twitter, does not seem to be an uncommon approach for teams looking to beat the Knicks this season. 

Due to a lack of time, this preview will have to be a little shorter than normal. For the standard personnel rundown, check out my preview from the Dec. 21 contest

Anyway, things are a little different this time. Raymond Felton, who had been struggling mightily with his shot anyway, is out with an injury. Marcus Camby seems to have re-aggravated his plantar fascia injury last night in Indiana. This does not resonate as a huge blow on paper, but it does put a dent in New York's frontcourt, which often struggles when Tyson Chandler isn't around to patrol the floor and/or shooting laser beams out of his eyes.

Also of note, Rasheed Wallace is still out, so no change there. Speaking of Sheed, read this.

Since their 15-5 start, the Knicks have been thoroughly mediocre of late: they've gone 8-7 in their last 15 and come into tonight with a two-game losing streak (on the heels of a two-game winning streak featuring a thumping of San Antonio and a high-scoring W in Orlando). 

The Knicks took a tough loss against the similarly physical Boston Celtics, which you probably know about solely because of the post-game come-at-me-bro between Carmelo and Kevin Garnett. Last night, the Knicks got thoroughly Big Ten'd by the Pacers, an 81-76 defeat in which Carmelo was a DNP due to a one-game suspension stemming from the aforementioned incident. 

Combined with the fact that tonight is the back end of a back-to-back for the Knicks, New York's  less than stellar performance this week should at least allow for a solid shot at another win in Madison Square Garden for the Bulls. The Bulls didn't exactly look impressive themselves on Wednesday against Milwaukee, faltering in the fourth quarter after a big early lead (history, it repeats itself) en route to a 104-96 defeat

"Luckily," this game is not being played at the United Center. The Bulls have thrived on the road this season, having picked up big wins at MSG and against Miami more recently. Can they do it again? It comes down to this: 
  • J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony combined for 55 points the last time these two teams met, but on a mediocre 19/45 from the field (42%). High volume, low efficiency. This is the formula, but it is easier said than done. Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler did a masterful job containing and frustrating Melo last time; Melo will likely look to come out shooting coming off of his suspension, so they will need to bring a similar effort. 
  • Simply put, the Bulls starters need to get close to matching their shooting efficiency from the last meeting. Even Kirk Hinrich had an incredible performance, shooting 6/8 (4/5 from 3!) en route to a 16-point night and yet another underwhelming showing for Felton. 
  • Transition, transition, transition. The Knicks' transition game losing a bit of zip with Jason Kidd running the show, but everyone knows that he is still capable of Jamie Moyer-ing his way to some nifty assists on the break. As always, the following chain applies: good shots=fewer long rebounds=fewer transition opportunities for the oppoent=fewer soul-crushing Steve Novak corner threes, terrifying J.R. Smith thunderdunks, etc.. The Bulls got demolished in transition Wednesday night, so you can be sure this was a point of emphasis in practice yesterday for Tom Thibodeau.
  • Prediction? The odds are against the Bulls shooting the lights out like they did last time, and the odds are also against Carmelo Anthony being as relatively inefficient as he was on Dec. 21. In any case, with both teams coming off of ugly losses (for vastly different reasons), I think the energy will be high on both sides. With the Knicks' resurgence, this rivalry has easily vaulted into first place for me as a Bulls fan. Nothing will ever bring back the sheer intensity and venom of the 1990s, but that doesn't mean this still can't be a great rivalry. Unfortunately, I have a hard time picturing the Bulls reprising their first performance in MSG. The scoring will be much lower this time, and I'm envisioning the standard script: a tough game throughout marred by a lack of big plays down the stretch by the Bulls. Bulls 92, Knicks 99.

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