The Chicago Bulls lost a tough one in New Jersey on Wednesday, and I expect a bounce back performance tonight against another below-.500 team, the Philadelphia 76ers.
This 76ers team has been really up-and-down this season: they started the year out very poor, then stepped it up, and now are falling back down again.
Tonight will be the first game of a tough back-to-back; no, the 76ers aren't tough, but tomorrow night the Bulls will face the Boston Celtics. To make things fair, the Celtics will also be playing on the second night of a back-to-back, although the Bulls arguably have an advantage playing at home.
Let's take a closer look at tonight's game against the 76ers:
Keys to the game:
Bounce backs for Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer
Statistically, neither had bad games against the New Jersey Nets: 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting for Rose; 12 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists for Boozer. But stats don't always tell the story.
Rose struggled with his ball-handling for most of the game, which led to 5 turnovers. He wasn't the usual Rose; what I mean by that is he's so gifted offensive. He doesn't just score, he's also an excellent passer in traffic and does a great job keeping his teammates involved, however, he had just 1 assist against the Nets. The last time Rose was held to an assist or less in a full game was 12/31/08, against the Orlando Magic in his rookie season.
Boozer, as I said earlier, played much worst than his stats indicate. He made Kris Humphries look like an All-Star and got lost defensively several times. There was some controversy as to why he was benched for the final 14 minutes of the game, but Tom Thibodeau explained that he was benched because of matchups.
I don't think it's a big deal; players go through rifts with their coach all the time, and this one isn't even as bad as the Ron Artest-Phil Jackson situation in Los Angeles. It's a small issue that's being compounded as a big one because the Bulls lost. If they had won, this wouldn't even have been an issue. Instead, we would be talking about how Thibodeau is a genius for keeping the poor defending Boozer on the bench.
Whoever wins the rebounds will likely win the game; everyone must show on rebounds
The Bulls are 3rd in the league in RPG (44.29), while the 76ers are ranked 12th (42.14). Both teams, clearly, are very good rebounding teams, however, the 76ers run out Spencer Hawes at center, and he averages just 5.4 rebounds per game.
Elton Brand leads the 76ers in rebounds at 8.7 per game, but he's not a player you pencil in as an automatic double-double. The 76ers are a gang-rebounding team: they don't have any dominant big-men on the glass, such as Dwight Howard or even Joakim Noah, but they have solid individual rebounders.
With two teams pretty close in their RPG average this season, I assume whoever wins the rebound battle will probably win tonight.
Get back in transition
This 76ers team has a lot of speed and athleticism, with Jrue Holiday and Andre Iguodala at the guards, I don't understand why this 76ers team doesn't simply commit to playing a run-and-gun, Phoenix Suns style of basketball. It's puzzling to me that they continue to rely on the halfcourt offense in the second halfs of games.
However, that doesn't mean they don't run at all. This team does like to get out in transition throughout spurts of the game, and if the Bulls don't look out for that they can get burned really easily.
If you thought those Kris Humphries alley-oops were bad, there's more of that coming their way if they don't get back on defense.
Tonight's game can be dangerous for the Bulls for the simple fact that getting complacent -- by looking forward to tomorrow's game against the Boston Celtics -- can be easy.
The Bulls have got to take care of business tonight before looking forward at tomorrow's game. They can't gear up to play a game they aren't playing, meaning they can't go into tonight thinking about the Celtics when their opponent is the 76ers.
Today's game will be a good test for the Bulls. They're coming off a disappointing loss to a bottom-feeder and an overblown incident with a star player.
It would be nice to get a blowout win, just like last time against the 76ers, so that the Bulls can get some rest for Rose, Boozer, and especially Deng, heading into their back-to-back against the Celtics.
I expect a good showing by the 76ers, though. They'll come out with a lot more energy than usual to try and extract some revenge.