Thursday, April 11, 2013

Game No. 78 Preview, Bulls-Knicks: On Fire

Chicago Bulls (42-35) vs. New York Knicks (51-26)

The Bulls and Knicks meet tonight for their fourth and final meeting this season, a series which has somewhat surprisingly been dominated by the former this season. Chicago is 3-0 against the Knicks, who recently locked up the division title and have a magic number of three for the No. 2 spot in the East, with Indiana hot on their heels. The Knicks have been beset with all sorts of injuries all season, but they still have much to play for down the stretch before the playoffs begin. 

Thibodeau's squad notched a close victory at the UC back on Dec. 8, and you of course probably remember the two thumpings the Bulls delivered in the Garden (both which ended up looking vaguely close on the box score). 

Both teams are riddled with injuries at the moment, so this matchup will not exactly represent both teams at full strength, let alone even 75% of their full capacity. Regardless, it is an important game for both squads, as the Bulls are also looking to hold on to the 5-seed in order to face Brooklyn in the first round, a much better matchup in my mind than a date with the Pacers. 

At this point, there's no need to run through the roster for a fourth time this season: you know these Knicks. On Tuesday, the Knicks went with a starting five of Martin-Anthony-Prigioni-Shumpert-Felton; unfortunately for the Knicks, Kenyon Martin was the latest guy to go down in Tuesday's game against the Wizards. He, Tyson Chandler, Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace will all likely be out for this one (although this is just me doing some early morning speculating as I write this). 

As such, the Knicks will be even more thin at the front court than they've been in past matchups. The Knicks are apparently close to signing James Singleton, who sounds like a Kenyon Martin approximate of some sort, but I'm not sure if that will be done in time for tonight's game. According to Frank Isola, the Knicks will likely have to cut someone (i.e. Kurt Thomas) to make this happen. 

In any case, the song remains the same. The Bulls will need to be physical with this Knicks team, which has struggled with that brand of play against the Bulls in their previous triumvirate of matchups. As you are likely aware, Carmelo Anthony has been channeling Spike Albrecht of late, averaging an insane 40.6 ppg in the month of April, including 50- and 36-point outputs at Miami and at Oklahoma City. Not only has Anthony's jersey sales topped LeBron's, his MVP star may be rising past the latter's after it dipped somewhat in the middle of the season. 

Unfortunately for the Bulls, with Joakim Noah out and Taj Gibson currently listed as day-to-day, there might not be much opportunity to take advantage of the boards as the Bulls have done against New York in the past. I don't think the Bulls can count on cracking the century mark in this one as they did in the two games in MSG. This will be one or lost by, you guessed it, defense and probably Jimmy Butler getting close to duplicating his career night on the offensive end against Toronto. 

The Bulls are on a two-game skid, ending a long winning streak against the Pistons and dropping the aforementioned game in Toronto on Tuesday. As we've seen all season, there is no reason to do much extrapolating from this sort of thing: the Bulls have been known to lose to poor teams only to turn around and beat one of the league's best shortly thereafter (and vice versa). There's no reason to expect the Bulls to not put up a fight, especially at home. 

However, if the Knicks somehow manage to go 20-for-36 (55.6%) from three again, as they did on Tuesday, this one will of course be pretty ugly. In their previous matchups, the Knicks have shot 35%, 31% and 50% from three against the Bulls. If Chicago's defense can allow something close to the first two matchups, they'll be in business. 

As always, forcing Anthony and J.R. Smith into high-usage, low-efficiency outputs will be the name of the game, as well as being mindful of the always dangerous Steve Novak corner three. 

The simple "100-point rule" applies tonight: the Bulls haven't cracked the century mark since their March 27 victory against the Heat. If the Knicks manage to score 100+, turn out the lights. I don't think they will, but I once again don't think the Bulls have enough juice to pull one out against a Knicks team playing its best ball since its early season run of dominance. But, I've been wrong many times before, and it's not like the Bulls didn't somewhat recently end the Heat's prolific streak. 

Bulls 87, Knicks 93. 

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