Does the Hawks road win against the Miami Heat make them seem a bit more fearsome coming into the UC tonight? It was a somewhat rare win for Atlanta against an elite team as they usually pile up their record against the league's doormats.
Atlanta's offense has been steamrolling opponents, they have five players with a PER over 20 (ironically Joe Johnson and Josh Smith aren't on that list, but Tracy McGrady whom the Bulls could have had at the minimum is), and their top shot takers are largely shooting over 60% TS%. That's an unbelievable offensive start.
I'm sure some fans will have misgivings about not picking up Tracy McGrady while others will still say they don't want him. I'll say this, it's interesting to see how well McGrady is fitting into the Hawks given that they're a team that didn't really need another ball handler. I'd have to think he'd fit even better here where we DO need another ball handler.
They now roll into Chicago on the back of an emotional win against Miami to face what's likely the league's best defense [though Bulls ranked 8th right now in DRTG].
A game which appeared early on as a blip on the radar now appears like a stiff challenge, especially as the Bulls will play without C.J. Watson and possibly Richard Hamilton.
All that said, Bulls win. Outside of their game against Miami, Atlanta has piled up their stats against New Jersey (twice) and Washington while losing handily to the Houston Rockets. They're a good team and have always been a good team, but their win against Miami was a fluke, and they're not going to get two flukes in a row.
Keys to the game
Atlanta is one of those teams that scores from all over the floor. For almost the entire game, all five players on the court are threats to score. They don't have a single dominant scoring strength to take away, so the Bulls need to limit their double teams, make the correct rotations, and maintain their defensive responsibilities.
They haven't turned the ball over much and are forcing teams to work hard on both ends of the court. The Bulls will need to stay disciplined and focused defensively to turn back their offense. I look for Derrick Rose to lead the charge defensively against the explosive Jeff Teague whom I feel is the key to their offense.
Continue the offensive flow
The Bulls have piled on the points the past couple of games through tremendous offensive flow. They've had precision passing, quality shooting, and lots of attempts in the lane to generate foul shots. Chicago merely needs to keep doing what they've been doing on offense.
Atlanta isn't turning the ball over much, but the Bulls have done a great job in initiating a fast break attack off of missed shots rather than just off of turnovers, I look for them to continue that trend.
Beat them up inside
The Hawks aren't playing a traditional center very many minutes, so Chicago will need to beat them up inside. This doesn't mean going to the low post with Joakim Noah against Al Horford over and over, but it does mean that they should attack the offensive glass hard and see if the Hawks can really defend it well with an undersized lineup.
Derrick Rose time
Too bad Derrick Rose doesn't have twitter, because I'm pretty sure if someone tweeted him that Jeff Teague was the best PG in the NBA, that he'd go out and score 50 with 20 assists just to show us how wrong that is.
The Bulls are always looking to lessen the burden on Rose, but here it is, against the good teams the Bulls need big performances out of Rose to win just like the Lakers need big ones from Kobe Bryant and the Heat need them from Wade/James. The Hawks are a very strong team, and the Bulls might need a special performance out of Rose to win tonight.
I'm fairly hyped for this game now, we probably won't think much of the Hawks by season's end, but for now they look pretty dangerous which gives this a big game feel to it. I expect the Bulls to come out and treat it that way and get the victory.
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