The Bulls are running through the final remaining gauntlet on the schedule right now, and are about to kick off the toughest part. After these three games, the Bulls should be able to hold on to a 75%+ winning percentage the rest of the season. The question is how can they do against Atlanta, Orlando, and Miami on the road?
They start off with the easiest of those tough games tonight in Atlanta. The Hawks are 2-1 after trading for Kirk Hinrich while playing all three games on the road. They're well rested as they are coming off two days off from a Sunday tilt against the Nuggets and returning home from a long road trip.
The Bulls aren't a great road team, but the Hawks have the worst home crowds in the NBA even when playing well. Don't be surprised if the makeup of the crowd is 25% Bulls fans and if those fans don't combine to make more noise than the actual Hawks fans. Expect some road MVP chants again tonight.
Keys to the game
Keep them launching jumpers
Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Jamal Crawford all tend to fall in love with their three point shots. If you can force them into long twos rather than threes all the better, but these guys are collectively shooting around 33% from the three point line. Keep these guys out of the paint and keep the ball out of Al Horford's hands, as he's their most efficient offensive player, but tends to be under utilized.
It's about the team defense
The Hawks bring an offensive threat at every position on the floor, so the Bulls need crisp rotations, and they need to make sure that while they keep the Hawks shooting jumpers that they aren't wide open jumpers.
The Bulls defense typically is good at ganging up on isolation players or a primary threat on offense, the Hawks offense typically has a medium level threat at every position on the floor, so the Bulls will might adjust their strategy to overload the defense on the strong side.
Joakim Noah's ability to get out and help quickly and rotate from one side to the other will be key for the Bulls to defend the Hawks. You know Al and Jo will be pumped to go at each other and each will be looking to bring a little something extra to the game.
Who can stop Derrick Rose?
Rose's bad games typically come when he just gets a little sloppy with the ball early or tries to do a bit too much. However, the Hawks have little hope to stop Rose as they're completely lacking in perimeter athleticism. Joe Johnson's not a stiff, but he's more SF than SG, and Kirk Hinrich and Jamal Crawford don't have the athleticism to stay in front of Rose.
What the Hawks do have is a lot of interior shot blocking with Josh Smith and Al Horford, so after making his foray into the paint, Rose will need to know where those two are in order to decide between the pass and shot.
That said, I think Rose is in for a monster game, as I think teams that can't stop him at the perimeter have little hope to stop him on the interior even with quality help defenders.
Ramp up the pace on offense, slow it down on defense
The Hawks will look to slow it down on both ends which should bode well for our offense. The Bulls should look to get out on the break on offense though. Derrick Rose should blow by whomever is defending him and should have lots of leak out opportunities to get easy chances in transition.
This is really a critical game for Chicago if they want a shot at moving up in the seedings. They need to hit 2-1 on this road trip to have a shot at the 2 seed, and this is the most winnable game on the trip.
Road games haven't been easy for the Bulls, and I think the Hawks represent a difficult opponent because of their ability to score from every position. However, the Bulls are the better team, and I think they'll find a way to win this one.