The Chicago Bulls have played some great basketball in the absence of star point man Derrick Rose, but now they have to pass a test that could prove extremely difficult. After defeating a young run-and-gun team in the Phoenix Suns on November 14, they will now have to face the Lob City Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center.
Though the Bulls have done better than anyone could have expected thus far, this game is going to be a tough one for them. The Clippers are so deep and talented, and they like to run the ball. Chicago, on the other hand, plays a slower game under Tom Thibodeau.
With a rowdy Clippers fan base making the building's foundation shake and the team taking full advantage of being in first place, Los Angeles is going to do everything possible to make sure that this game goes at their pace from start to finish.
Time: Saturday, November 17th, 9:00 p.m., EST
TV: Fox Sports West 2, WGN
Records: Chicago Bulls (5-3) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (6-2)
Betting Lines: Not available as of Friday, November 16th, 10:22 a.m., EST
Injuries: Derrick Rose (knee), Kirk Hinrich (hip), Grant Hill (knee)
Key Storyline: Lob City Looks to Take Bulls by Horns in Quest for Victory
As was mentioned before, the Bulls have done quite well despite the absence of Rose; however, all five of their wins have come against teams that either didn't make the playoffs last year or were without a key player.
That said, the Clippers are surely going to look to run the Bulls out of town, literally. From start to finish, Lob City is going to be in overdrive, as the young and fast team looks to make the Bulls seem slow and tired.
Still, the Bulls have a way of adjusting to their opponent's game, and given how good a coach Thibodeau is, he may have a plan for this game. Either way, it's going to be a ton of fun to watch.
Key Matchup: Joakim Noah vs. DeAndre Jordan
Though the Bulls' top priority on defense is going to be to contain star point guard Chris Paul, their guards can only do so much to stop the Mayor of Lob City. The real decisive battle is going to be in the paint, where Joakim Noah and DeAndre Jordan will battle for dominance.
Noah has been the surprise of the year for the Bulls, finally looking like a complete center and showing a developed offensive game to go with his already stellar defense. This season, the former Florida Gator is averaging 16 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.
Noah also has decent size at 6'11", 232 pounds, but this is where he is at a disadvantage. Jordan is also 6'11" but outweighs Noah by 30 pounds. Moreover, whereas Noah tries to incorporate an offensive game, he is a pure defensive center, averaging seven rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
That said, whoever gains the upper hand in this matchup will see his team win the game. Given the great amount of discipline both men have shown all year long, it's a tossup.
X-Factors: Luol Deng and Blake Griffin
Believe it or not, ladies and gentlemen, two men need to do well in this game to make a difference for either side.
On the Clippers' end, Blake Griffin needs to have as great a game as he did against the Miami Heat. He needs to stand and bang under the basket and go after every rebound, not to mention drive the lane with tenacity and draw fouls.
He is at a distinct advantage in this game because he'll be guarded by Carlos Boozer, who has been nothing but a disappointment since joining the Bulls in 2010. Despite having decent size at 6'9", 266 pounds, the former Duke Blue Devil has gone soft on defense and won't be able to keep up with someone as strong as Griffin.
However, Chicago has an X-factor of its own in forward Luol Deng. He has taken over the offense with Rose out, averaging 19.1 points and 7.1 rebounds. On top of that, he has been a great pest.
More importantly, Deng is a natural scorer and can keep up with the Clippers' run-and-gun game. If he can run up the court just in time to come up with a clutch blocked shot or steal, Chicago just might have a chance.
If the rest of his teammates follow, that will be all the better.
No surprises here, ladies and gentlemen. With their balanced offense and fast pace, not to mention incredible depth, the Clippers are going to win this one handily.
Home court advantage will be in full swing as the fans unite behind Clipper Darrel and the players respond accordingly. Look for Chris Paul to sink some key threes and for Blake Griffin to exhibit his legendary dunking abilities.
Who will win?
More importantly, expect DeAndre Jordan to have a career game in the paint against Joakim Noah, who will be outmatched from start to finish.
The sad truth is that, while the Chicago Bulls may look good now, they haven't really had to fully compete against top NBA teams. After this game, they'll know what they have to do going forward if they are to continue making a case for a spot among the league's elite.
Los Angeles Clippers 116, Chicago Bulls 96