The two teams who battled down to the wire last season for the NBA’s best regular-season record—won by a game by the Bulls—meet for the first and only time this regular season on Wednesday night when Chicago visits San Antonio.
Something definitely will have to give here, as entering the second half of the season Chicago leads the NBA with 14 road wins (and in average point differential at +9.5 overall), while San Antonio is tied with Oklahoma City for the fewest home losses with one. The Bulls are currently No. 2 in the East, a half-game behind Miami. The Spurs are No. 2 in the West, three games behind Oklahoma City.
Bulls at Spurs: How the Teams Enter
The Bulls will be playing the second of back-to-back games, having hosted New Orleans on Tuesday night to conclude a six-game homestand. Chicago entered the All-Star break having pulled off two straight double-digit home wins over Atlanta and Milwaukee—and having won eight of 10.
The break appeared to come at a good time because Derrick Rose says his troublesome back is now pain-free. In fact, he said it feels so good that he didn’t even undergo treatment while he was in Orlando for the All-Star Game.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau led the East in that game and played Rose only 18 minutes, none in the fourth quarter. Fellow Bull Luol Deng, a first-time All-Star, only played six minutes. By comparison, Thibodeau played Heat stars LeBron James for 32 minutes and Dwyane Wade for 33. A little gamesmanship for the second half??
San Antonio concluded its annual Rodeo Road Trip 8-1. The Spurs had a chance to become the first team ever to sweep a road trip of more than seven games, but Coach Gregg Popovich decided to rest starters Tony Parker and Tim Duncan last Tuesday in Portland even though San Antonio was on an 11-game winning streak.
The Spurs then went out and lost by 40 before closing the first half with Duncan and Parker back and winning 114-99 at Denver last Thursday.
This will be San Antonio’s first home game since Feb. 4. Their road trip covered 17 days and 7,941 miles.
Bulls at Spurs Betting Story Lines
It’s rather remarkable that both teams are so high in the standings. The Bulls have dealt with injuries to Rose (10 games missed), Deng (seven games missed) and Richard Hamilton. The first two are obviously playing now.
Hamilton, whose leg injuries have limited him to 11 of the Bulls' 35 games, did practice Monday and there was an outside chance he could play either Tuesday vs. the Hornets or in this game. But Chicago will err on the side of caution—they want Rip 100 percent by playoff time. I’d be surprised to see him before the weekend.
San Antonio, meanwhile, has seen its second-best player, Manu Ginobili, play only nine games so far. Ginobili will probably miss this week as well with a strained left oblique. San Antonio is 17-8 without him.
Also likely out another week is backup center Tiago Splitter (calf). That leaves San Antonio severely shorthanded up front other than Duncan (whose minutes are very limited) and DeJuan Blair, who dominated the injury-wracked Nuggets last Thursday with a career-high 28 points and 12 boards.
But the Bulls are deep in big men, Joakim Noah is playing at an All-Star level (12.6 points, 11.9 rebounds in his past eight games), and Chicago is No. 2 in the NBA in rebounding. By comparison, San Antonio is just 24th.
Clearly the matchup to watch here is Rose against Parker, perhaps the two fastest players in the NBA. Parker deserves some MVP consideration. His points per game are up nearly seven points in February from last month, to 24.6. Overall he’s averaging a team-leading 19.4 points and career-high 8.1 rebounds per game.
These two teams split two meetings last year, with San Antonio winning by nine at home and the Bulls by 10 in the Windy City. Rose had a career-high 42 (since tied in the regular season) in that Chicago win.
Bulls at Spurs Betting Odds and Key Trends
San Antonio opened as a two-point favorite with the total at 188 on NBA odds. The Bulls are 21-14 ATS overall (entering Tuesday’s game) and 13-7 ATS on road. The Spurs are 20-13-1 ATS overall and 10-4 at home. ‘Over/under’ records: CHI 17-17-1, SA 18-16.
The Spurs have covered nine of their past 10 vs. teams with winning records. The Bulls are 6-2 ATS in their past eight vs. the Western Conference. The under is 7-1 in the Bulls’ past eight vs. teams with winning records. The under is 7-1 in the Spurs’ past eight at home. The under is 7-1 in their past eight meetings. The favorite has covered in six of the past eight.
NBA Picks: Bulls at Spurs Betting Predictions
Normally I wouldn’t bet against San Antonio at home, but I think they will dearly miss Ginobili and Splitter against the Bulls’ stellar defense. But I would certainly wait before backing Chicago to make sure one of its key players isn’t hurt Tuesday night. But barring that, Bulls and the under are the picks.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports NBA Picks web site.