These two teams last faced off on Oct. 31, when the 2012-13 NBA season kicked off. Chicago won and has since become a solid defensive team despite the absence of star point guard Derrick Rose, while the Kings have once again become a squad bound for the lottery, though a potential move to Seattle could change their fortunes in the near future.
The scene has also shifted from the United Center to Sleep Train Arena, and the Bulls have gone 0-3 when visiting the West Coast this season. Sacramento could very well have an upset in their bones, and the Bulls lack of a solid scorer could easily make that a reality.
At the same time, however, Chicago really needs to win this game in order to keep pace in both the Eastern Conference and Central Division. With their West Coast struggles well known this season, the team will have to do all it can to come together and overcome its flaws against a lesser team.
Otherwise, the Bulls could find themselves on the losing end of what would be an incredibly bad loss at this point in the season.
Time: Wednesday, March 13, 10 p.m. ET
TV: CSN Chicago, CSN California
Records: Chicago Bulls (35-28) vs. Sacramento Kings (22-43)
Injuries: Derrick Rose (knee, day-to-day), Taj Gibson (knee, out), Rip Hamilton (back, out), Kirk Hinrich (day-to-day), James Johnson (personal, day-to-day), via ESPN
Key Storyline: Bulls Seek to Right West Coast Woes with Big Win Over Kings
The Bulls have gone 0-3 on the West Coast this season, but there is really no reason they should not win this game. After all, they did already take down Sacramento once to open the season.
That happened on Oct. 31 at the United Center, and the Bulls were able to fight off the Kings in a 93-87 victory. Joakim Noah led the way with 23 points, 10 boards, five steals and three blocks—the first step of a season that has seen him emerge as a Defensive Player of the Year Candidate. Not even 21 points and eight rebounds from Tyreke Evans could bring Sacramento a victory.
Against the Kings, the Bulls will need he and his teammates to continue to be great. Sacramento ranks just 26th in rebounding and dead last in points allowed, so that could easily make up for Chicago ranking 29th in points scored.
At the same time, however, the Bulls have lost three of four and are playing with a banged up roster.
Sacramento could thus go into upset mode, and Chicago cannot let that happen. A big win is a must and completely doable, despite the stats being against the team.
Moreover, seeing as how Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee is reporting that the Kings expect star center DeMarcus Cousins to be suspended for this game, there's always the chance that Sacramento could just take a mulligan on this game.
Long story short, the Bulls should have this one in the bag, barring a terrible offensive performance.
Key Matchup: Carlos Boozer vs. Jason Thompson
With Cousins potentially, out, the Kings are going to need a strong game from usual power forward Jason Thompson, currently in his fifth NBA season after being drafted out of Rider in 2008. With Cousins possibly missing this game, chances are he will be starting at the 5.
Over 28.5 minutes per game, Thompson is averaging 11.2 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 52 percent from the field.
Over his last five games, he has posted 16.6 points, 7.4 rebounds while shooting an astounding 66 percent from the field. The man has what it takes to be a force for the Kings against the tough defense of the Bulls, but he faces an uphill battle.
This is because Thompson will almost definitely be matched up against NBA All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Joakim Noah, who has been nothing short of spectacular for the Bulls this season.
The former Florida Gator is averaging 12.1 points and 11.5 rebounds to go with 2.3 blocks per game this season, and has done an excellent job of being more aggressive in the paint, as well as being a force on both sides of the floor.
Over his last five games, Noah is averaging 14 points, 12.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per contest. He is a much better overall defender than Thompson, and he needs to be in complete beast mode for this game.
That means going for every rebound and not being afraid to rise up for a block. He doesn't have an overwhelming experience advantage over Thompson but is a strong enough player that he can take the man to school, since he will likely be playing out of position in Cousins' absence.
Barring a terrible night, this battle is Noah's for the taking, and Thompson must do all he can to swing the pendulum in his team's favor.
X-Factor: Marco Belinelli
The Bulls' offense needs to be in full swing in order to pull off a win, and that means Marco Belinelli must continue his hot streak.
The Italian sharpshooter is averaging 10 points per game and shooting 38 percent from long range on the season, but has been hot as of late. Over his last five games, he has averaged 16.2 points while shooting 43.5 percent from the field and an eye-popping 63 percent from long range.
He'll need to keep his solid numbers coming against a weak Kings defense, as this is basically a trap game for the Bulls. Their next stop is against the hot-shooting and ever feisty Golden State Warriors, and a big win in Sacramento would do wonders for their chances heading into that game.
That all starts with Belinelli having an excellent scoring performance, be it incorporating his jumper, doing work from downtown, or even driving the lane. The fact is he has been the Bulls' best pure scorer in recent games, and playing a lottery team in Sacramento is the perfect opportunity for him to just go off and have a great night.
In which case, the Bulls can win easily.
Predicted Starting Lineups:
PG: Nate Robinson
SG: Marco Belinelli
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Joakim Noah
PG: Isaiah Thomas
SG: Tyreke Evans
SF: John Salmons
PF: Patrick Patterson
C: Jason Thompson
The Bulls may not have a win on the West Coast this season, but they'll get their first in Sacramento. The Kings have home-court advantage, but the potential absence of Cousins and the overall youth will be no match for charging Chicago.
Pick your winner!
Joakim Noah will have another excellent game and continue to show why he is one of the best defensive players in the league. On the offensive side, Marco Belinelli will lead the way while Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer chip in accordingly.
All that the Kings will have to cheer about will be another good scoring night from Marcus Thornton, with the team's holes gaping wider than usual for this game.
The Bulls will thus win in a blowout, giving them plenty of momentum as they continue their road trip.
Chicago Bulls 102, Sacramento Kings 87