The Bulls' easy schedule continues tonight when they will face the woeful Clippers at the United Center. However, this will be their first game without All-Star caliber center Joakim Noah.
Noah's former coach, Vinny Del Negro, will also make his return to the United Center as the opposing coach. Del Negro coached the Bulls to an 82-82 record in his two seasons as the Bulls' head coach, and led them to two playoff appearances.
He should get a good ovation from the United Center crowd. He was Derrick Rose's first NBA coach and helped the development of both Rose and Noah.
This will also be the first time Bulls fans will get their first look at Rookie of the Year candidate Blake Griffin, who is averaging 20.3 PPG, 12.1 RPG, and 3.1 APG. He has been one of the few bright spots for the Clippers this season, who, despite the talented roster, play very inconsistent, selfish basketball.
Another player the Bulls will have to look out for will be third-year SG Eric Gordon, who's averaging 24 PPG this season.
Nonetheless, the Bulls should win tonight fairly easily, and this is a game that they can't afford to lose. With Noah out, they'll have to take advantage of this soft schedule and build some room between other teams in the standings; so that when the schedule does get tough, they don't have to worry about falling down in the standings.
Let's take a look at the keys for the Bulls to get past the Clippers tonight:
Keys to the game-
Keep a body on Griffin
Griffin has dominated the NBA thus far, but that doesn't mean he can't be slowed down. It's important for the big-men to keep a body on Griffin at all times -- whether it's boxing out for a rebound or guarding him in the low-post.
Most of Griffin's offense comes from easy dunks/layups; the easy, high percentage shots get the rest of his game going and creates plenty of momentum swings.
As players have started to do around the NBA the past couple weeks, the Bulls should give Griffin some hard fouls. Don't hurt the young superstar, but you can't let him dunk all over you, creating a mockery of your defense. Give him a hard foul here or there and send him a message that he's not just going to get easy dunk after easy dunk. That's what Kurt Thomas was brought here, right?
Dominate the glass
Without Noah, this might seem like a tough proposition, but the Bulls still have the personnel to dominate teams on the glass.
The Clippers have an athletic center in DeAndre Jordan, but he doesn't have the beef to hang with a guy like Carlos Boozer down low. One of the main reasons Griffin is averaging just a shade over 12 RPG is that the Clippers lack rebounding -- someone's got to grab them.
I expect the Bulls to blow the Clippers out as long as they hold the rebounding advantage -- getting them out in transition and exposing the weak Clippers defense.
Show VDN what he's missing
It's always for players to impress their former team mates and/or coach; in this case, the Bulls will have their chance with Del Negro back in town as the opposing head coach.
Although VDN had pretty good success as the coach, the vibe has taken a 180 degree turn since Tom Thibodeau was hired. There just seems to be a different atmosphere around the team -- they really respect Thibodeau for his workaholic mindset and knowledge.
The Bulls always played hard for VDN, but they didn't seem to have the respect they have for Thibodeau, and it never seemed like VDN was the guy to lead the Bulls to the promise land.
VDN deserves a good reception from the UC crowd, and hopefully, the Bulls show him what he's missing out on here in Chicago.
Just take care of business
The Bulls have championship aspirations, the Clippers, on the other hand, are hoping they can top at least 30 wins this season.
Plain and simple: the Bulls need to take care of business tonight and beat the Clippers. With Rose hurting, another blowout wouldn't hurt, but it's all about getting the win right now, and the Bulls need to focus on just taking care of business.
The Bulls have a tendency to get complacent -- from the best teams to the worst -- but eventually find their way out of it. That's a dangerous, risky way of playing; getting off to a good start tonight will be important because the Clippers are a classic front running team: giving them an early lead will just build their confidence and make things tougher than they need to be.
It's going to be fun watching Griffin play against the Bulls for the first time in his career, and it will be interesting to see who will take the challenge of guarding the young phenom. I expect it to be Gibson, but it also wouldn't shock me if Boozer is put on Griffin so that he can use his strength to bother Griffin.
I expect the Bulls -- yes, the Bulls -- to make a game out of this early, letting the Clippers hang around. But come second-half, it's tough to see the Clippers hanging with the Bulls.
The Bulls should handle the Clippers fairly easily, and a Timberwolves-like blowout wouldn't shock me, either.
Clippers @ Bulls. 7:00 pm C.S.T. WGN/ESPN 1000