The Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics throw down tonight on national television in a game which will determine whether the #1 seed is a fight to the finish or merely a formality.
The Bulls have a magic number of three vs the Celtics, so even with a loss, the Bulls have the inside track on the #1 seed in the East. With a win, the Bulls all but close the door on the process as they'd bring their magic number down to one with four games left to play.
Is Boston playing better?
While the Celtics have struggled recently, they played really well against the Spurs and shut down the 76ers. The Celtics look like they're putting forth more effort against the better teams, and play much better with a day of rest.
The Celtics don't seem to be pushing too hard for the #1 seed, but you can bet the Thibodeau factor will come into play in terms of motivation for both sides. The Celtics would certainly prefer to have home court against Miami if not the #1 seed as well.
Look for the Celtics to go full bore against the Bulls in this game, especially given that Rondo and Rose don't seem to like each other all that much and have somewhat of a rivalry brewing.
Derrick Rose is going to destroy Rondo
For starters, he's had tremendous success against Rondo in the past, also, as noted above, I think it's personal with Rose. One thing you can say about Rose is that he seems to have a Jordanesque quality of taking little things and using them to fuel his desire to crush opponents.
I look for Rose to come out really strong and have a big game, of course, that's par for the course at this point.
The Bulls need to amp up the energy
The Bulls need to make sure they play faster than they often do. Run Boston right off the floor. Make them expend a ton of energy if they want to stay in the game and see how bad they want it.
The Bulls should also look to abuse them at center. The Celtics have little going on at center right now, and Joakim Noah should destroy whomever he's going against.
Own the glass
Without great center play, KG is on a rebounding island. The Celtics aren't likely to get considerable help from their perimeter players on the glass as Deng should easily keep Pierce off the boards while Allen's no particular threat to rebound either. Rondo could help on the glass, but he'll have to protect against Rose leaking out and crushing their defense.
The Bulls should hit the glass hard on both ends as the Celtics aren't a threat to break if the Bulls go hard on the offensive glass, and the Celtics don't have a lot of offensive rebounding power on their end.
Rose can close the MVP debate if it's still open
Has Rose already won the MVP? It's possible, but if there are still doubts then a dominating performance on national TV to all but clinch the one seed would seem like a good way to close them. Assuming that the Magic game ends up being somewhat of a dud with Howard's suspension, this will be the last big game the Bulls will play this season and the last chance for Rose to make an impact on everyone who watches.
This is the first really strong opponent the Bulls have played in some time. It's a nice test before the playoffs, and outside of catching NY on a good day, it might be the last tough game of the season (with Dwight Howard likely missing Sunday's contest).
I look for the bulls to come out strong and win the game. I think it means more to them in that they're probably trying to prove themselves a bit more than Boston is.