Here to provide the DC Council Opening Statements for Washington’s 28th game of the season against the Bulls in Chicago are TAI’s Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It) and guest Braedan Ritter (@BullsbytheHorns), who writes about the Bulls for the ESPN TrueHoop blog Bulls By The Horns. Also check this By The Horns game preview where I contribute answers to the very same questions that Braedan answers below.
Wizards Starters (4-23):
Shelvin Mack (we assume?) … Nope, it’s Garrett Temple, Bradley Beal, Martell Webster, Nene, Emeka Okafor
Bulls Starters (15-12):
Marco Belinelli, Rip Hamilton, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah
Q #1: What have you done for me lately?
(What’s the status of the Bulls over the past week?)
@BullsbytheHorns: The Bulls followed up a great road win against the Knicks with two dismal performances. They were blown out by the Hawks, scoring just 75 points in that contest, and then run off the floor by the Rockets. The Houston game was one of their worst defensive performances in recent memory. Luckily, Chicago got a much needed break, as their game against the Pacers (scheduled for Wednesday) was postponed. It will be a well-rested Bulls team, but also a team coming off what could possibly be its worst back-to-back games under Tom Thibodeau. With that said, the Bulls normally respond well to losses.
Q #2: Who threw out my alarm clock?
(Which player(s) are we sleeping on?)
@BullsbytheHorns: Marco Belinelli. Since becoming a starter in early December for the injured Rip Hamilton, Belinelli is averaging 15.3 points per game and shooting a respectable 40.8 percent from 3. That’s a big improvement over his 5.2 points per contest in November when he was looking like a terrible off-season signing.
Q #3: What game-within-the-game counts most?
(What matchup between two players or between each team in a particular statistical category is most important.)
@BullsbytheHorns: I’ll have my eye on the two benches. Washington’s reserves scored 57 points against the Magic, as they ended up outscoring the starters. That means the Bulls’ bench, which has been up and down this year, will have to step up and slow that second unit down. Chicago has their own scorer coming off the pine in Nate Robinson, so the “who can shoot more off the bench” match-up between Jordan Crawford (unless Crawford is inserted back into the starting line-up) and Nate should be fun to watch. But it will be important for Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson to play well defensively and stop Washington’s bench from duplicating their performance against Orlando.
Q #4: How it’s going down?
(TAI’s general key to the game.)
@Truth_About_It: Luol Deng injured his ankle in Chicago’s last game, but is expected to play; Rip Hamilton is also expected to return for the Bulls after missing 12 games. So, injuries, sminjuries, I s’pose.
As I mentioned in the preview at Bulls By The Horns, the key to this game will be Nene and Emeka Okafor versus Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah—which has me curious, will Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau look to match up Noah (the more traditional center) against Nene instead of against Okafor (who, for all intents and purposes, starts at 5 for Washington, even though the lines between 4 and 5 are rather gray)? I figure that Noah’s length, defense, and ability to move laterally probably could bother Nene a decent bit, but that would also leave Chicago’s defense dependent on Boozer to protect the basket from cutters when the ball is in Nene’s hands from the low block/short corner. Point being, Washington’s offense really relies on Nene, and in the big picture of Chicago’s defense (4th best Defensive Rating—98.6 points allowed per 100 possessions), even the Brazilian’s presence for 30 minutes might not be enough (Nene played 29 minutes against Orlando).
Worth noting: Washington’s bottom-feeding 93.2 Offensive Rating jumps to 104.7 with Nene on the court. Also worth noting: I’m not so sure Nene’s ailing foot is completely ready for back-to-back games.
The Bulls are favored by 10.5 points over the Wizards. The over/under is 180.5 points (via USA Today).
@BullsbytheHorns: With the Wizards on the second night of a back-to-back, and the Bulls coming off an extended break after two straight disappointing games, I see the Bulls coming out angry and getting back on the winning track. Tom Thibodeau had a few extra days to practice and get his guys ready, and Washington is 0-7 when playing on no rest. Bulls win, 97-82.
@Truth_About_It: So much of me wants to write that the Wizards will make this game interesting, perhaps even covering the spread, but reality is shaking me like an abused baby right now. Is Nene really going to play the second night of a back-to-back after playing 29 minutes? Will the stop-gap point guard combo of Shelvin Mack and Garrett Temple be effective against Kirk Hinrich? The #SoWizards answer is “no” to the Nth degree. So in that light, Chicago wins 89-80 (but the Wiz do cover the spread).
[stats via NBA.com/stats]