The Chicago Bulls (7-1) will go for their seventh-straight win of the young season on Saturday night on the road against the Atlanta Hawks (5-3). Both teams currently sit atop the Eastern Conference standings and are expected to battle it out with the star-studded Miami Heat this spring for East supremacy.
The two teams' first meeting last Tuesday night resulted in a furious Bulls comeback win, as 76-74 was the final in Chicago. This time around the Hawks will look to squeak out a win at home.
Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA
When: Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012, 7:00 PM ET
Watch: SportSouth or stream live at NBA League Pass
Listen: Chicago: ESPN 1000 (WMVP-AM), Atlanta: WCNN-680 AM (93.7 FM)
Which team will win Saturday night's matchup in Atlanta?
Bulls over Hawks 3.5, according to covers.com. Chicago has been streaking in the right direction as of late and they are coming off a big, 14-point win in Orlando on Friday night. This game has a Bulls' win written all over it, especially considering how easy Chicago erased Atlanta's 19-point lead on Tuesday night.
The over/under is set at 177, according to covers.com. This may be considered a relatively high total given that the two teams only combined for 150 points a few nights ago in Chicago. Although the Bulls won't often score 26 points in the first half, defense takes priority when these two teams meet. Under seems like the way to go Saturday night.
A couple of veterans are listed as day-to-day heading into Saturday night's matchup in the ATL.
Chicago: Rip Hamilton (groin). Hamilton aggravated a groin injury on Wednesday and missed Friday night's game in Orlando. He is listed as day-to-day, according to ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell.
Atlanta: Tracy McGrady (knee). McGrady was ruled out of Atlanta's matchup with Charlotte on Friday night with a bruised knee and has not played since Thursday night's loss to Miami. He is listed as day-to-day, according to ESPN.com.
What's At Stake?
The Bulls can separate themselves from or keep pace with the Heat with a road win on Saturday night, running their away mark to 6-1 just two weeks into the shortened regular season. Meanwhile, the Hawks can gain some ground on the East's top teams and run their record to 3-1 at home this season.
Both teams met last spring in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, with the Bulls prevailing in six games, so there is added significance placed on this matchup for the bitter Hawks.
What They're Saying
Tuesday night's classic in Chicago has Hawks players believing that they can stop the mighty Bulls at home on Saturday night.
"We were right there with them, we dominated for most of the game. Just Derrick Rose happened." - Al Horford via ESPN.com
Those betting on the game should pay attention to this vital stat brought to our attention by Twitter.
Bulls Player to Watch
Derrick Rose: Without a doubt the most dominant player on the floor Saturday night will be the reigning league MVP Derrick Rose. Rose is averaging 20.9 points per game and 8.8 assists per game this season, and dropped 30 points on the Hawks Tuesday night in the Bulls' epic comeback victory.
Hawks Player to Watch
Joe Johnson: The All-Star shooting guard shot a horrendous 3-17 from the field on Tuesday night, assisting the Bulls in their comeback win. Johnson is shooting just 38 percent on the season and will need to step up for the Hawks to not only win on Saturday night, but effectively challenge in the East.
Atlanta's team defense vs. Derrick Rose: Rose went bonkers in the second half of the two teams' previous meeting earlier this week, and that can't happen if the Hawks are to have any chance of winning this time around. Sloppy defense from Atlanta resulted in 13 free throw attempts for Rose, who only needed 22 shots from the field to post 30 points for the first time this season.
The surging Bulls have proven they can win in a variety of ways this season, while the Hawks have begun struggling against the league's top teams already.
If Rose flirts around with 21 points and nine assists in the ATL Saturday night, the Bulls will prevail and build upon their win streak. It's a near-lock to happen, so Chicago gets the edge in a back to back against a tired Hawks team playing its third game in as many nights.
Bulls 87, Hawks 79