I bring you a tale of two teams short-handed at the point. The Chicago Bulls rank No. 4 in the Eastern Conference, but have been without star point guard Derrick Rose all season long, as he is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered last season.
As a result, the game these two will play on March 6 is anything but predictable, even if San Antonio does own the league's best record. Parker plays a significant role in the Spurs' offensive attack, and now they are without him against a Chicago defense that ranks third in points allowed.
The Bulls are thus in a prime position to pull off the season series split, having lost to San Antonio in February, but their weak offensive attack makes it an uphill battle for them. If a victory against the Spurs is to be, it has to happen on good old-fashioned heart, and nothing more.
Time: Wednesday, March 6, 9 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN, CSN Chicago, CBS KENS5 HD
Records: Chicago Bulls (34-26) vs. San Antonio Spurs (47-14)
Injuries: Derrick Rose (knee, out), Taj Gibson (knee, out), Rip Hamilton (back, day-to-day), Kirk Hinrich (foot, day-to-day), Boris Diaw (back, day-to-day), Tony Parker (ankle, out), via ESPN
Key Storyline: Can Spurs Beat Bulls Without Tony Parker...Again?
As was mentioned before, the Spurs have beaten the Bulls once already this season, back on Feb. 11. That game took place at the United Center, and San Antonio's dominance was clear.
The team won 103-89 and shot 52 percent from the field, led by 26 points from second-year man Kawhi Leonard. On Chicago's end, Nate Robinson led with 20 points.
Ready for the crazy part? The Spurs won without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili in the lineup.
That's right, folks. The San Antonio Spurs proved themselves to be the deepest team in the league by basically putting up a bunch of youngsters and reserves against the mighty defense of the Chicago Bulls, only to win by a double-digit margin.
But can they do it again with the veterans in the lineup, sans Parker?
Don't get me wrong. The Spurs are the best team in the NBA, but not having Parker in the lineup means losing 21 points and 7.6 assists per game.
It's thus going to be interesting to see what strategy head coach Gregg Popovich chooses to employ, as Chicago's defense is no joke and the Spurs are fighting hard to maintain the top spot in the league over the defending champion Miami Heat.
Key Matchup: Joakim Noah vs. Tiago Splitter
The Bulls are a far superior rebounding team than the Spurs, ranking sixth in the category compared to San Antonio at 22nd. Just the same, the battle of the big men is going to be the one that decides the final score.
On Chicago's end, there is Defensive Player of the Year candidate Joakim Noah. He has done a fine job of stepping up his effort in Rose's absence.
This season, Noah is averaging 12.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. Over his last five games, he is averaging 15 points, 11.8 boards and an astounding 4.2 blocks while shooting 56 percent from the field. The former Florida Gator is in full defensive mode, and stopping him has become a tough task for any opposing center.
The latest man to take on this challenge will be San Antonio's Tiago Splitter, who has proved his worth since stepping into the starter's role at the 5 earlier this season. The 6'11" Brazilian is averaging 10.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, and has posted 10 points and 7.4 boards over his last five games.
It's going to be interesting to see how each man plays the other, as both have similar approaches to the game, albeit with a few differences. Splitter is a big man with a developing defensive game and whose offensive work is exclusively under the basket, while Noah is a much grittier defender and likes to occasionally break out a jump shot on offense.
Moreover, Noah has more experience as a starter and could thus take Splitter to school on both sides of the floor, taking advantage of his weak rebounding game and forcing him out of his comfort zone. Chicago will need just that from him, lest it wants to be dealt another loss at the hands of San Antonio this season.
X-Factor: Nate Robinson
With Kirk Hinrich hurt again, 5'9" Nate Robinson is back running the point. He has done a solid job of being a bench spark and scorer for the Bulls this season, posting 11.7 points per game while shooting 42 percent from the field and 39 percent from long range.
He has started at the point for Chicago multiple times this season, and averaged 12.9 points and 5.9 assists per game in February.
However, Robinson has been a a cold streak as of late. He is averaging just nine points per contest over his last five games, and is shooting an abysmal 28 percent from the field and 29 percent from long range.
Chicago simply needs him to get out of that funk against San Antonio. This is the part of the season where every game counts and against a Western Conference powerhouse in San Antonio, a win for the Bulls would be huge.
This means Robinson needs to be in full point guard mode, dishing the ball off to an open man and not being afraid to drive the lane when called upon. In terms of his long-range game, he should just keep at it. His slump can't last forever, so better that he shoot the ball instead of avoiding what could be a continuation of a cold streak.
A good game from him can be enough to swing the pendulum in Chicago's favor, and a win against the Spurs could provide the team with plenty of momentum going forward.
Predicted Starting Lineups
PG: Nate Robinson
SG: Marco Belinelli
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Joakim Noah
PG: Cory Joseph
SG: Danny Green
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Tim Duncan
C: Tiago Splitter
As much as the Bulls would love to win this game, it's just not going to happen. The Spurs have proven time and time again that they can indeed win without key players, and this one without Parker will be no exception.
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili will both have superb performances en route to another Spurs win, with Danny Green sinking key threes along the way and Kawhi Leonard continuing to show that he is one of the league's best up-and-coming talents.
That isn't to say that Chicago won't put up a good fight. Nate Robinson will break out of his funk and Joakim Noah will definitely have a great defensive showing.
Unfortunately, the streaky nature of the rest of the team will come back to haunt Chicago, and thus result in another fairly weak scoring performance that ends with the Bulls losing on the road.
San Antonio Spurs 102, Chicago Bulls 91
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