The Chicago Bulls will get their five-game road trip started tonight against the Los Angeles Clippers, a team that boasts a 19-28 record.
Although they're well out of the playoff race, the Clippers have been playing very well of late, winning 9 of their last 13 games.
They sport a 3-15 road record, but are 16-13 at home. The Clippers have won 9 straight home games, with wins over two above .500 teams, the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets.
The Clippers play much more enthused at home and as a team. As we know, they are led by rookie Blake Griffin, who will surely make the NBA All-Star team in his inaugural season.
One player the Bulls won't have to worry about is the Clippers' leading scorer, Eric Gordon (24.1). However, his replacement Randy Foye has picked up the slack, averaging 17.2 PPG in the past 5 games; including 3 straight games of 20 or more points.
We all know about Griffin's prowess this season, but the floor general of this team is Baron Davis. He's been re-energized -- according to several fans near the L.A. area -- thanks to Griffin, and when Davis has his head in the game, he's as dangerous as most point guard's in the NBA. It'd be smart to dare him to shoot, but he always finds ways to get into the paint; thus creating easy dunk/layup opportunities for Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
Let's take a closer look at what the Bulls need to do tonight to get a win:
Keys to the game:
Derrick Rose vs. Baron Davis
This is without question the matchup of the game. Derrick Rose is arguably the MVP of the NBA and Baron Davis is playing in easily his best stretch of the season.
Rose's defense has definitely improved, but there aren't many nights where the opposing point guard is -- to be frank -- stronger than him. There's no doubt that Rose's speed, quickness,
athleticism, and strength makes him nearly unstoppable, but Davis, when his head's on right, is in the same category.
Davis can get to the paint at will if Rose doesn't defend Davis with his utmost attention. Davis isn't Darren Collison; he has taken Rose to the post in the past, and it wouldn't be surprising if he does it again.
The key to defending Davis is to play him for the jumper. He tends to fall in love with the three-point shot; Davis isn't nearly as good a shooter as he once was. He chucks up over 3 three-pointers per game, connecting on just 27% of them. Make him shoot. Period.
Guard Griffin one-on-one
The Clippers -- minus Gordon -- aren't nearly as potent as they can be. Ryan Gomes and Jordan aren't scorers, although they do much of the dirty work.
There's no question it'd be smart to give Griffin the Dwight Howard treatment: defending him one-on-one; don't send a double-team at the rookie. For starters, putting Kurt Thomas on Griffin would be wise, and Boozer on Jordan.
No doubt Griffin is much more athletic than Thomas, but Thomas would hold up much better than Boozer would. And it's certainly possible that Thomas uses his smarts -- as the league's second oldest player -- to get under Griffin's skin, something teams have tried to do for weeks.
Let Griffin go for 40; as long as the Bulls contain the rest of the Clippers' team, it shouldn't be a problem. The Clippers don't have much depth scoring-wise, so stopping their key player, Griffin, will cut the head off, per say.
Snap the road woes
The Bulls are coming into tonight's contest at a mediocre 10-10 road record. Among the top 10 teams (record-wise), the Bulls, along with the New Orleans Hornets, are the only teams with a below .500 record on the road.
In the playoffs, it will be imperative to win on the road. They're certainly not off to a good start thus far.
And it doesn't get easy: the Clippers are coming in with a 16-13 home record, and 9 straight at Staples Center.
The Bulls have already put their name in among the league's best, but it's tough to name them legit contenders until they show some life on the road. They are contenders, but how can you be legit with a .500 road record?
Justify Chicagoans staying up until nearly midnight
Yes, players aren't going to think about this, but Chicagoans will have to "stay up" until nearly midnight in order to watch the entire game. Not to mention dealing with the blizzard that has hit the entire state of Illinois.
It's always tough with these late night games because fans with work and/or school have a tough time catching the game, but the die-hard fans will surely watch the Bulls tip off their road trip in L.A.
The Bulls are coming into tonight playing very good basketball, but the Clippers are too -- at home.
Expect a tough, grind-it-out game for the Bulls tonight. Although their record indicates otherwise, the Clippers are a very tough team to play. Why? They have have some individual talent -- such as Griffin and Davis -- and can easily have a big night.
Snapping the Clippers' nine-game home win streak would be a big way to start off this five-game trip. However, don't expect it to be easy.
Bulls (33-14) @ L.A. Clippers (19-28). 9:30pm C.S.T. CSN/NBATV/ESPN 1000