Chicago ranks No. 6 in the East and has been sinking thanks to a cold streak, while Utah is No. 8 and fighting off the charging Los Angeles Lakers. Both teams have a lot to play for, so watching them face off on March 8 should prove to be a fun experience.
This also happens to be the second and final time both teams will face each other this season, with the Bulls having won back on Feb. 8. That game was incredibly close, and Round 2 will be no exception.
With defense being the name of the game on both sides, fans should get very excited.
Time: Friday, March 8, 8 p.m. ET
TV: CSN Chicago, ROOT Sports
Records: Utah Jazz (32-29) vs. Chicago Bulls (34-27)
Injuries: Taj Gibson (knee, out), Derrick Rose (knee, day-to-day), Rip Hamilton (back, day-to-day), Kirk Hinrich (day-to-day), Al Jefferson (ankle, game-time decision), Jamaal Tinsley (personal, day-to-day)
Key Storyline: Bulls and Jazz Seek to Maintain Pace in Respective Races
These two teams last faced off on Feb. 8, and it was close from start to finish. Despite a respectable effort from Utah, the Bulls pulled off a 93-89 victory thanks to 19 points from Carlos Boozer and double-doubles from both Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. On the Jazz's end, Al Jefferson led with 32 points and 13 boards.
The stage for this game is even different, and not because it is set to be played at the United Center. Jefferson is not a lock to play, leaving Utah without one of its top interior players. Nothing against Enes Kanter, but he still has a long way to go before he's as solid a center as Jefferson.
Throw in that the Bulls are the seventh-best rebounding team in the league and rank third in points allowed, and this game becomes even more of an uphill battle for Utah.
Chicago is also fighting to stay alive, having slipped to No. 6 in the East with their latest loss. Unless star point guard Derrick Rose decides to suit up for this game and thus become an instant offensive catalyst, fans should expect nothing less than another close matchup.
Key Matchup: Carlos Boozer vs. Paul Millsap
The Jazz's greatest weakness is their lack of depth at guard, with most of the production coming from either Al Jefferson or power forward Paul Millsap. As a result, Millsap's matchup with Carlos Boozer is going to be the one to watch.
Millsap does not have much size at 6'8", 253 pounds but plays with the tenacity of someone much bigger. He mans the paint well and also has a decent jumper, averaging 15.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
The man has also been solid in his last three games, posting 18 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting about 49 percent from the field, right on par with his percentages for the season.
Millsap must use his fine interior presence to outplay Boozer, who is not as strong on the inside as Bulls fans would like him to be. The former Blue Devil is averaging 15.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game this season, and while those numbers are not at all bad, they pale in comparison to the 19.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game he averaged in six seasons with the Utah Jazz.
Despite his fairly disappointing performance in a Bulls uniform, Boozer needs to use his experience to make life difficult for Millsap. He has more size at 6'9", 266 pounds and must force his opponent out of his comfort zone from start to finish.
This means guarding the paint with an iron will and making Millsap rely more on the jumper, thus giving the Bulls an advantage on the inside. That alone can swing the pendulum in the Bulls' favor, even if the offense is hit or miss for the entire game.
X-Factor: Marco Belinelli
Scoring has been the Bulls' bug-a-boo all year long, as the team ranks just 28th in scoring with 92.5 points per game.
With the backcourt banged up, another solid game from three-point specialist Marco Belinelli is essential to Chicago defeating Utah. The Italian sharpshooter has seen extended minutes his last two games and is averaging 20.5 points on 63 percent three-point shooting over that stretch.
On the season, however, Belinelli has shot just 41 percent from the field and 37 percent from three-point land. When push comes to shove, he is really just a role player.
But that is not the mentality he must have for this game. The Bulls need him to play starter's minutes, and put up those types of numbers. This should not be a problem for him, as Utah's backcourt defense is weak, but his streakiness could still be a problem.
If he can sink his shots like he has been doing his past few games, then the Bulls immediately have the upper hand. However, if he should have an off night, victory becomes much tougher.
Predicted Starting Lineups:
PG: Mo Williams
SG: Randy Foye
SF: DeMarre Carroll
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Al Jefferson
PG: Nate Robinson
SG: Marco Belinelli
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Joakim Noah
The Bulls face an uphill battle in facing the Jazz for Round 2, but home court advantage still makes this game theirs for the taking. The team's overall defense is so good that Utah's lack of consistent scoring outside of Millsap and Jefferson, if the latter even plays, will sink the Jazz.
Pick your winner!
Joakim Noah will continue his strong streak going, grabbing rebounds and swatting away blocked shots as he continues to make his case for Defensive Player of the Year. Carlos Boozer won't exactly shut down Paul Millsap but will perform well enough to force the Jazz power forward out of his comfort zone and have a below-average game.
The man of the hour, however, will be Marco Belinelli. In exploiting Utah's weak defense, he will sink shot after shot en route to leading the team in scoring and further establishing himself as a three-point machine.
This game is Chicago's to lose, and the team's players will ensure that nothing but victory is celebrated in the Windy City by the final buzzer.
Chicago Bulls 96, Utah Jazz 88