A pair of Eastern Conference contenders are set to square off on Saturday. The 33-25 Chicago Bulls will host the 34-24 Brooklyn Nets in a game that could wind up making a big difference in how both teams are seeded in the playoffs by the end of the year.
These two teams couldn't be more evenly matched. Not only do they sport extremely similar records, they have already split their first two games with the home team taking each of the first two contests.
The Bulls claimed an 83-82 victory at the United Center back in December, but the Nets rallied back with a 93-89 win in Brooklyn on Feb. 2.
Both teams would do themselves a huge favor by picking up the win and their previous games both came down to the wire. This is a must-watch game that is sure to come down to which team can execute most consistently.
When: Saturday, March 2 at 8:00 p.m. ET
Where: United Center, Chicago, Ill.
Betting Line: Chicago Bulls -5 via Odds Shark
Nets Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
Marshon Brooks (wrist, probable), Joe Johnson (heel, probable)
Bulls Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
Richard Hamilton (back, questionable), Derrick Rose (knee, out), Luol Deng (mouth, questionable), Taj Gibson (knee, out)
Key Storyline: Who pulls ahead in the season series?
When it comes to regular-season matchups, it doesn't get more important than beating the teams you are in direct competition with for playoff seeding.
These teams are separated by just one game in the standings, and both are playing at similar levels right now. There's a good chance the race between the two will come down to the wire and pulling ahead in their four-game regular-season series would be big for either team.
With both home teams winning the first two contest, the pressure is on the Bulls to continue that trend.
When the playoff stretch rolls around in April, this could be a game that plays a pivotal role in their seeding.
Key Matchup: Joakim Noah vs. Brook Lopez
In terms of individual matchups, it doesn't get much better than two All-Stars battling it out on the low block.
Lopez is having a breakout season for the Nets and scored 20 points in Brooklyn's win over Chicago in Feb. Getting him touches in the paint will be key to a Brooklyn win.
He'll also have the difficult task of defending and keeping Joakim Noah off the boards. Noah is playing out of his mind right now and had a historic triple-double on Thursday that included 21 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocks.
If Lopez allows Noah to put up numbers even close to those, there's no way the Nets pick up a big road win. This is a crucial matchup in the middle, and it should be fun to watch.
The Bulls are the slight favorites in this one, and that can be attributed to the fact that they are at home.
However, that doesn't mean that the Nets should be discounted. The games between these two teams have been really close, and the Bulls are pretty nicked up with Rose, Hamilton, Deng and Gibson all either out or questionable to be in the lineup.
Deron Williams is still one of the NBA's best point guards, and without Rose, the Bulls are at a disadvantage at the position.
Taking into consideration that Chicago is only 16-14 at home and actually has a better mark on the road, this has all the makings of a minor upset.
Nets 93, Bulls 90
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