The Chicago Bulls officially started their road trip in Wednesday to a home town crowd of Bulls fans in Milwaukee. Now, the Bulls hit the road to play a series of quality opponents starting with the resurgent Brooklyn Nets. The Nets have improved considerably since Brook Lopez returned and Avery Johnson was fired.
Noah vs Lopez
The Nets have played much more through Brook Lopez with P.J. Carlesimo than they did under Avery Johnson. Lopez isn't exactly a banger, but can score in the post as well as with the mid-range jumper. Joakim Noah will draw the assignment of keeping Lopez in check. In the last matchup, Lopez had the advantage early, but Noah shut him down in the second half as the Bulls came from behind to win by a point.
Chicago will depend on Noah to dominate the glass against Lopez who's been a relatively weak rebounder despite his size as well as chase him on the perimeter to shut down the mid range jumper. On the offensive end, Noah should create some openings by beating Lopez down the floor and can take Lopez off the dribble with his speed occasionally. That said, I expect Lopez's big body to give Noah trouble on the offensive end and don't look for a big impact from Joakim on that side of the court.
Stopping Deron Williams
The other primary piece the Bulls need to stop is Deron Williams. Williams isn't much of an athletic freak for a star PG. Kirk Hinrich lacks athleticism, but plays strong fundamental defense and should force Williams into tough looks and limit his easy opportunities. Williams can still have a big night through strong defense though, and the Bulls will need to keep him in check.
If the Bulls can hold Williams and Lopez in check, then they'll force the Nets to rely on Wallace/Johnson and while both players are talented, neither are likely to provide consistent, efficient offense for Brooklyn.
The Bulls may need to limit Nate Robinson's role against Williams as Deron is too strong and fundamentally good for Nate to stick him for any length of time, and the Nets typically aren't running with a second smaller guard for Nate to cover if the Bulls wanted to switch Butler onto Williams or play a Hinrich/Robinson backcourt. If Nate's playing time is limited, the Bulls need the rest of the team to step up their scoring.
Jimmy Butler time
With the Nets likely playing Johnson/Wallace together for considerable portions of the game, it's the perfect opportunity to give Butler more minutes next to Deng. Butler can provide the extra defense the Bulls need and matched up against Johnson he can likely score a ton of energy points by crashing the glass, sprinting down the court and playing hard.
Moreover, Butler has played fantastic basketball recently and has earned a larger role with the team. This game gives him a perfect venue to utilize his skills on both sides of the ball and create a mismatch in Chicago's favor.
Kirk Hinrich has flown back to Chicago to have his elbow evaluated and is definitely out for tonight's action. Joakim Noah may also miss the game with a sore foot (plantar fasciitis) and Boozer is out for the game. The Bulls now look like they'll need a pocket full of miracles to pull this one out.