Bulls vs. Knicks: Slumping Players Who Need to Step Up
The last time these two teams faced each other, the Bulls outlasted the Knicks, 93-85. Marco Belinelli and Luol Deng each posted 22 points against a Knicks squad that struggled to assemble any offense without Carmelo Anthony.
If the season ended today, the stars would align for the Knicks to face the Bulls in a potential second-round matchup pitting the No. 1 seed against the No. 4 seed.
Leading up to this highly-anticipated contest, the following players have been mired cold spells. A strong outing from one of the following players could dictate the outcome of tonight's game.
New York could not have asked for more from Jason Kidd. The 39-year-old is posting a career-high .638 true shooting percentage, according to Basketball Reference, which displays his pinpoint accuracy from all over the court.
Perhaps he was due for a slump. In his last three games, Kidd has hit six of his 27 three-point attempts.
Even when Kidd slumps with his shooting stroke, he can still make a huge impact through his highly unselfish play. But against Chicago's gruesome defense, New York will need him to knock down a few three-pointers.
The Knicks rely on sinking three-pointers, but the Bulls are among the best in the league at defending the perimeter, allowing a 32.6 percent conversion rate from downtown.
If New York wants to crack Chicago's slick defense, they'll need a strong night of shooting from Kidd.
Raymond Felton's play has bordered on All-Star caliber at points this season. He might just earn a ticket to Houston due to his team's stellar 19-6 record.
Lately, however, he has put forth some lackluster shooting performances, including a 4-of-15 outing against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. During December, Felton is shooting 37.5 percent from the floor.
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Although Felton scored 27 points in the Knicks' last game against the Bulls, he needed 30 shot attempts to reach that total.
With Anthony back in the mix, he should no longer feel the need to carry the burden, which will hopefully lead to a more efficient performance.
In Derrick Rose's absence, Kirk Hinrich has logged valuable minutes for the Bulls, offering 5.3 assists per game along with tight defense.
While he never could have duplicated Rose's offensive wizardry, Hinrich is shooting a career-low 34.9 percent. He has not dropped double-digit points since Dec. 7, including their game against New York when he scored three points.
The Bulls thrive due to their exceptional defense, but their offense ranks 27th in the NBA with 92.8 points scored per game.
Keeping the Knicks' shooters quiet twice is a lot to ask, so they might need a more potent offensive spark in order to emerge victorious again.
This spot could belong to just about anyone on the Bulls bench.
It's not their fault, but head coach Tom Thibodeau neglects his reserves and instead thrusts his starters into the game for an abundance of minutes.
During their Dec. 8 bout with the Knicks, Deng, Belinelli and Joakim Noah all played at least 44 minutes. And no, that game did not extend into overtime.
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Maybe it won't haunt them tonight, but Thibodeau eventually needs to give his starters a rest.
So why make Nazr Mohammed the spokesperson for Chicago's B squad? Noah, while having a phenomenal season, clocks a ridiculous 40:12 minutes per game. The Bulls need someone who can ease some of the pressure away from the center.
Since Mohammed has converted four of his 23 shot attempts this season, it's easy to see why Thibodeau does not trust him. But if Thibodeau wants Noah to stay on the court long enough to play with Rose, he needs Mohammed to provide some decent minutes off the bench.
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