NBA scheduling will always make sure that teams know their divisional and other conference opponents very well.
Conference members stand to face each other at least twice a year with divisional opponents usually scheduled to face each other four times in a season.
Every so often, a team from one coast will test their mettle against adversaries on the other side of the Mississippi, but those expeditions are usually one-and-done deals that are hardly repeated.
With the second half of this NBA season set to kick off, there are going to be dozens of games that will be said to have “playoff implications.”
As fun as that phrase is to toss around, it pales in comparison to the other kitschy locution of “potential NBA Finals matchup.”
Even though Chicago’s excursions to California are done for the year, there are still a few Western Conference opponents left of their schedule that make for some interesting contests.
Here’s a closer look at some of Chicago’s more interesting “potential NBA Finals matchups.”
There are two things that really make this game captivating:
- The game is in San Antonio and the Spurs have been fantastic on their home court.
- The Spurs arguably have the best active coach in the NBA today.
The Bulls will be San Antonio’s first opponent post All-Star Break.
San Antonio went into the break on a 10-game road trip posting an impressive 9-1 record for that stretch.
Even more impressive is their 13-1 homestand so far this season with the lone loss being a close 88-86 defeat at the hands of the Kings.
As far as intriguing player matchups go, you have the one-two punch of Tony Parker/Tim Duncan matching up against Derrick Rose/Carlos Boozer.
Parker has been playing fantastic this season and putting up numbers very similar to Rose with 19.1 points and 8.1 assists per game.
Duncan is well past his prime, but his 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds show that he still has some significant contributions left in the tank.
The real test for this Bulls team, though, lies not with how well the players will compete against each other, but rather how well Tom Thibodeau can match wits with the sage Greg Popovich.
Over the span of Pop’s 15-year coaching career, he has failed to post a winning record and reach the playoffs only once, his first season in 1996-1997.
Since then, Popovich has led the Spurs to 14 consecutive playoff appearances, seven conference finals and four NBA championships.
Even with an aging team, Popovich still has the Spurts sitting atop of their division that includes the defending champion Dallas Mavericks and two other teams sitting over .500, the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies.
Over the past couple of seasons, Popovich has transitioned the Spurs from Team Duncan to Team Tony, which will make for a classic point guard showdown between Parker and Rose.
Two questions are eagerly awaiting to be answered with this game:
- Can the young superstar Rose best the veteran champion Parker?
- Can the calculating new heavy Thibodeau outmaneuver the wily Popovich?
Okay, a possible NBA Finals pairing is far-fetched with this opponent, but this game is interesting because of the each team’s composition.
The Chicago Bulls definitely follow the popular mold of having a superstar surrounded by good complimentary players whereas the Denver Nuggets have reached back to the Detroit Pistons’ early 2000 model of having team of various but reciprocal talents with no true standouts.
The Nuggets haven’t been playing spectacular basketball this season. They sit right above .500 and would just miss the playoffs if it suddenly started; still, this is a team that should not be taken lightly.
Not having one superstar to revolve things around makes the Nuggets a team that can easily adapt the game plan to fit any opponent.
They also have a veteran coach in George Karl who will also test Thibodeau’s resolve when these two meet up.
The fact that this game is in Chicago helps the Bulls tremendously, but a win would be far from guaranteed.
Chicago will be facing a team with no face of their own which will make it hard to plan defensively, and defense is how the Bulls win games.
It’s going to be exciting to watch this clash of opposing team configurations.
This game carries the most weight when you talk about potential NBA Finals matchups.
The Bulls and the Thunder are tops whenever the topic of best young NBA teams is discussed.
Right off the bat, the starkest contrast is that even though the core of each team is anchored by youthful prodigies, their styles couldn’t be any more different.
Because of Thibodeau, the Bulls still embody the old school tough, defensive approach to the game.
Oklahoma City loves to run their opponents with their energetic, youthful legs because, let’s face it, hardly anyone can keep up.
The one-on-one matchups here are salivating for even the most casual NBA fan.
At the point guard position is Derrick Rose versus Russell Westbrook.
Despite averaging 23.5 points per game, the most of any point guard this season, analysts would still hesitate putting Westbrook in the same class as Rose.
Still, it’s hard to deny just how similar these stars are from their build down to their style of play.
At the small forward position is Luol Deng versus Kevin Durant.
Deng is the Bulls best perimeter defender, and he will be guarding the league’s best perimeter offensive player in Durant.
Keep in mind that even though Deng battles the likes of LeBron James several times a season, he does not have much experience covering someone as long as Durant.
Even the matchups outside of the superstar players are worth looking forward to when you consider the offensive presence of Carlos Boozer matching up with the defensive-minded Serge Ibaka or the rekindling of old Eastern Conference foes Joakim Noah and Kendrick Perkins.
This game is going to test the Bulls all the way to the limit.
Will they stick with their usual game plan and try to grind the Thunder with their smothering defense, or will they attempt to run with the young guns of Oklahoma City?
It is going to be very interesting to see how Thibodeau prepares for this one.
Bulls fans will definitely have to savor this game because it is the only match against the Thunder all season unless both teams find themselves facing each other again in the 2012 NBA Finals.