The Bulls defeated the Memphis Grizzlies fairly easily the last time the two teams faced off on January 17.
The Bulls won in Memphis 96-84 and held control for most of the game, led by Derrick Rose's first career triple-double -- 22 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.
The Bulls improved to 28-13 after the mid-January victory, while the Grizzlies fell to 19-22, on their way to another mediocre season. Well, things have changed since then -- for both sides.
The Bulls are 23-6 since January 17 and the Grizzlies aren't far behind them at 21-10 since their loss to the Bulls in Memphis. The Bulls have gone from a potential top-three seed to the likely winner of the top seed in the Eastern Conference; while the Grizzlies went from appearing to be on the outside looking in the playoff race, to being a potential six-seed.
Even without the services of arguably their best player since the All-Star break in Rudy Gay, the Grizzlies have held their own with a 9-6 record, defeating some of the best teams in the NBA. They've beaten San Antonio, Dallas, Oklahoma City and most recently Boston, in the month of March alone.
The Grizzlies have gotten a monster season from double-double machine Zach Randolph, as he's averaging 20 points and a career-high 12.5 rebounds. He's a load for anyone to cover, but the Grizzlies as a team have bought into coach Lionel Hollins' system.
At 40-32, the Grizzlies are playing for something. It's been a while -- the Pau Gasol years -- since the Grizzlies have been decent, and with their 21-23 record against above .500 teams, they're not an easy win for any team.
However, the Bulls have gone through some changes, as well. The injury-bug that once hit this team appears to be over, but the Bulls' 22-8 stretch during the absence of Joakim Noah propelled them, giving them confidence that they can play with the best of them. And boy, have they.
The Bulls have won 10 of their last 11 games and have to win nine of their next 12 to finish with 60 wins -- for the first time since 1998.
The Bulls will have their hands full tonight dealing with Memphis. The Grizzlies don't have Gay, but their Trade Deadline acquisition of Shane Battier is paying a lot more dividends than his stats show. He's brought them a defensive presence that the gambling Gay couldn't bring.
The Grizzlies have also benefited from a sleeping-giant in Sam Young, whose performance has only improved as the season has wore on. He's averaging nearly eight points in March, but is coming off a February where he averaged 13 points and nearly five rebounds.
His play has given Memphis the opportunity to use O.J. Mayo off the bench, and although he's had a disappointing season, his offensive repertoire is still scary.
After the last time the two teams played, you couldn't have convinced any serious NBA follower that a March 25 matchup between the Bulls and Grizzlies in Chicago would be worth following closely -- but it is. For both sides.
Deng, Gibson and Watson set to go: After sitting out Thursday's practice with injuries, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and C.J. Watson are ready to go for Friday's matchup with Memphis at the United Center, according to ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell.
It was expected that the three would play tonight, as each game matters for the Bulls are they scratch and claw for the top seed in the East.
Deng and Gibson have dealt with the same injury for the past week -- Deng with the bruised left thigh and Gibson with a bruised right big toe. They're both gamers, so expect them to fight through the injury and finish out the year.
Watson has played arguably his best basketball of the season, averaging just over six points and nearly four assists in March. He's done the best he can all season to provide the Bulls with the ideal backup behind MVP candidate Derrick Rose, and while he went through some early-season struggles, he's been spot-on lately.
He's battling plantar fasciitis in his right foot, which can be a scary injury. A few of the Bulls, such as Deng, Noah and Gibson have battled with the nagging injury the past two seasons and it can become pain the behind.