Chicago Bulls in town, not the Charlotte Bobcats. Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton? Back for Chicago. Luol Deng? Out for a bit. Andray Blatche? Questionable. President Obama? Nope. The last time people expected Washington to lose this much (aside from pretty much all the time) was the Oklahoma City Thunder game. The Wizards somehow won that one. Chicago is favored by nine points on the road this evening. Should you get any ideas? Probably not. Chicago has the second best Defensive Rating in the NBA (97.4 points allowed per 100 possessions)… the Philadelphia 76ers are best (94.6 DRtg), and we all know how games against the Sixers work out for Washington. Nonetheless, let’s do the 3-on-3 drill… featuring Beckley Mason of HoopSpeak.com along with TAI’s John Converse Townsend and Kyle Weidie. Three questions, three answers starts now…
#1) Derrick Rose will be walking into the Verizon Center with the weight of Sunday night’s loss to the Miami Heat (partly due to his missed free throws) squarely on his shoulders. Not only will John Wall have to face off against a motivated Rose, but he’ll most likely have to face off again John Lucas, who had a career game against him on January 11 (25 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds — although backup Bulls PG CJ Watson, unavailable in the previous meeting between these two teams like Rose, is also back). Who has a better game tonight, Wall or Rose?
MASON: Rose has the better game because he’s the better player playing on the better team. Especially troubling for Wall, who struggles with turnovers in pick and roll sets, is that the Bulls play awesome, suffocating pick and roll defense. I think the only way Wall has the better game is if it becomes a real up-and-down contest.
TOWNSEND: John Wall has flirted with triple-doubles for the past month; the numbers might convince you that Wall will get lucky tonight. But then you remember that Wall’s career averages against Chicago are, well, average — 13.3 points and 4.3 turnovers. Reality sets in: It’s Derrick Rose, not Wall, with the No. 1 stitched on the back of his jersey, and it’s Rose who has learned to bend the laws of physics, and it’s Rose who wins the game.
WEIDIE: Dare I say Wall? (For dubious reasons…) Rose missed the initial meeting on Jan. 11, then came back to play against Boston and Toronto (both wins for Chicago), then missed the Bulls’ next four games. He’s played in four games, 156 total minutes, since coming back exactly one week ago, and saw 45 minutes of action against the Miami Heat on Sunday in a game where both teams were clearly tired toward the end. Even if the Bulls really need him, and I doubt that they do, I’d expect Rose’s minutes to be limited in Washington… You know, the team opponents with nagging injuries to stars are always delighted to play.
#2) The Bulls boast one of the deeper teams in the NBA. What must the Wizards do to stay competitive while Chicago’s starters rest?
MASON: Take care of the ball. Chicago’s second unit can score a bit, but really excels on the defensive end by creating turnovers against weak second units and generous opposing point guards. Mack will need to be a steady hand, and the Wizards will need to protect the boards. Also, someone will need to devote himself to keeping track of Kyle Korver.
TOWNSEND: The Wizards must limit the Bulls to one shot per possession, and that means winning every loose ball. In the first meeting between the two teams this year, Chicago out-rebounded Washington, 62-46 (the Bulls bench recorded 26 of those rebounds alone). Pro tip: box out.
WEIDIE: Intelligent offense. The Wizards are capable of playing decent defense, but their offense has to be smarter than ever. Will there be turnovers? Sure. Will heads hang, will the Wizards start feeling sorry for themselves, if Chicago starts easily converting those turnovers to points? That’s the big issue that an already-fired coach couldn’t answer. The key to Washington’s competitiveness will be how Jordan Crawford, with Andray Blatche questionable, operates off the bench as the primary scorer.
#3) Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Bulls allow an NBA-low 49.6 points per game within 10 feet of the rim. The Wizards, according to HoopData.com, are tied with the Miami Heat and Utah Jazz for second in the NBA in field-goals made at the rim per game (17.3). When these two teams previously met on January 11 in Chicago, Washington scored a season-low 64 points along with a season-low nine made field-goals at the rim (9-29). Andray Blatche was out that game is could likely be out tonight against the Bulls. All of this being said, can Washington score in the paint to keep this game close? And who gets the job done (or not)?
MASON: Scoring in the paint is one thing, but I’d be just as worried about keeping Chicago from dominating the interior with their aggressive offensive rebounding. That’s a big problem for the Wizards right now, who box out with an attitude that varies between casual and indifferent.
TOWNSEND: Washington won’t have the patience to find holes in Chicago’s suffocating half court defense, so it will be up to the Wizards defense and John Wall to take advantage of transition scoring opportunities. If the Wizards are contained in the open court, offensive efficiency will be critical. It’s your time to shine, Trevor Booker.
WEIDIE: I’m very curious as to if Randy Wittman starts Jan Vesely at the four again. He, along with Rashard Lewis and JaVale McGee, forming a frontline against Chicago’s toughness is a very scary proposition for the Wizards. But if not Jan, who else? Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin are not frail like Vesely, but could get abused just the same. If I’m Wittman, I go with a bigger body to start in hopes of setting a tone. The key, however, for Vesely, or whomever comes off the bench, will be battling with the likes of Taj Gibson and Omer Asik from Chicago’s second unit. Both are easily capable of smacking young Wizards around with their aggressiveness.