Thursday night's clash between the New York Knicks (51-26) and the Chicago Bulls (42-35) is a battle of two teams recently headed in different directions.
New York comes into Chicago riding a 13-game win streak. The Knicks have seemingly been hitting on all cylinders and are shaping up as the biggest threats to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.
On the downside, a recent injury could change things, but more on that in a minute.
The home-standing Bulls are the fifth seed in the conference, but injuries have them scuffling a bit as the regular season draws to a close.
Both teams' last games were indicative of these concepts.
A short-handed Bulls team fell to the Toronto Raptors at home on Tuesday night. Despite 28 points from Jimmy Butler, the Bulls could not overcome the absences of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and of course, Derrick Rose.
They fell 101-98.
The loss was their second in a row, their third in the last five games and all of the losses have come to non-playoff teams.
The Knicks continued their streak with a rout of the Washington Wizards in Gotham. Behind 36 points, eight rebounds and six assists from Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks won 120-99.
Even though the Knicks have played better recently, the Bulls have dominated the season series. Chicago has won all three meetings this season and will be looking to secure the season sweep on its home floor.
In the first meeting on Dec. 8, the Knicks played without Anthony. Chicago overcame 27 points from Raymond Felton and a 14-point, 18-rebound performance from Tyson Chandler to win 93-85 at the United Center. Deng and Marco Belinelli poured in 22 points apiece to lead the Bulls.
The second game took place on Dec. 21 and Anthony was on the floor, though he would be among four ejected from the game. Chicago prevailed in a chippy affair at Madison Square Garden, 110-106.
Anthony received two technical fouls for arguing with officials. Chandler and Noah had a minor altercation that led to their dismissal. Deng and Belinelli were again huge as Deng had 29 points and 13 rebounds, and Belinelli scored 22 again to spur the Bulls to victory.
In the most recent clash on Jan. 11, Deng had perhaps his best performance of the year. He scored 33 points on 13-of-18 shooting from the field. The Bulls defeated the Knicks at MSG for the second consecutive time, 108-101.
Anthony did score 39 points, but he was far less efficient than Deng. He needed 32 shots to mount his near 40-point night.
As good as Deng has been against the Knicks this season, the Bulls may not have him in the lineup on Thursday. He sat out the Raptors game with a sore hip, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.
If he can't go against the Knicks, it would drastically hinder the Bulls' chances to win.
Can the Knicks avoid the season-sweep? Will the Bulls continue to look like a battered team that could be in trouble in the first round of the playoffs?
Here's how you can watch.
When: Thursday, April 11, at 8 p.m. ET
Where: United Center in Chicago
TV: NBA on TNT
Live Stream: TNT Overtime
(per CBS Sports)
- Luol Deng, SF (Hip) Questionable for April 11 vs. New York
- Taj Gibson, PF (Knee) Out until at least early April
- Derrick Rose, PG (Knee) Out until at least early April
- Joakim Noah C (Foot) Took cortisone shot on Tuesday, per Johnson of Chicago Tribune. He will likely miss the Knicks game.
It sounds like Deng's absence against the Raptors was as much about rest as it was about his banged-up hip. I think he may give it a go against the Knicks on Thursday.
New York Knicks
- Marcus Camby, C (Foot) Questionable for April 11 at Chicago
- Tyson Chandler, C (Neck) Questionable for April 11 at Chicago
- Kenyon Martin, PF (Ankle) Questionable for April 11 at Chicago
- Amar'e Stoudemire, PF (Knee) Likely out for season
- Kurt Thomas, PF (Foot) Likely out for season
- Rasheed Wallace, PF (Foot) Out for season
Martin's ankle sprain could be a major hit for the Knicks on Thursday and beyond. Per Barbara Barker of Long Island Newsday, it is a safe bet that Martin won't play against the Bulls.
As you can see above, the team is already thin in the frontcourt, if they have to play without Martin on Thursday, or for an extended period, it will be tough.
- PF—Carlos Boozer
- SF—Luol Deng
- C—Nazr Mohammed
- SG—Marco Belinelli
- PG—Kirk Hinrich
- PF—Carmelo Anthony
- SF—Iman Shumpert
- C—Steve Novak
- SG—Raymond Felton
- PG—Pablo Prigioni
Are the Bulls Wounded and Distracted By the Derrick Rose Recovery Drama?
Per Rose, only God knows when or if he'll return this season (h/t to Peggy Kusinski and Lisa Balde of NBC Sports). Meanwhile, his banged-up teammates can't help but wonder if they will have their superstar with them in the playoffs.
Chicago has learned the hard way that the regular season means little when the playoffs roll around. After sweeping the Miami Heat in the 2010-11 regular season, they lost to LeBron James and Co. in five games in the playoffs.
If they could get Rose back for the second season—something he hasn't ruled out, per Johnson of the Chicago Tribune—this up-and-down campaign could still be very good.
Because that prospect is still floating about, the team seems distracted. Even before Noah went down and Deng was rested/hurt, the Bulls seemingly played to the level of their competition.
They are 5-1 against the Knicks and Heat this season and they ended Miami's 27-game win streak.
Yet they struggle against teams like the Raptors and Pistons, clubs they have lost to consecutively this week.
Expect the Bulls to be up for this game because it is the Knicks coming to town. But you won't see any consistency from them until they know for sure what's happening with Rose.
Did the Knicks Momentum Come to a Screeching Halt With Martin's Injury?
The Knicks were doing very well playing small ball without Chandler, Camby, Thomas, Stoudemire and Wallace in the lineup. But without Martin, they would be devoid of any interior presence on defense.
That will be a recipe for disaster in the playoffs. We could see a preview of that on Thursday if Martin doesn't play.
Carlos Boozer won't have much opposition near the basket in that scenario. The Knicks would be under tremendous pressure to shoot the lights out from three-point range to win.
While that may work here and there, that isn't something the team can depend on long term. We'll have to see how that situation plays out.
It will be vital to the Knicks' postseason hopes.
Key Matchup: Carlos Boozer vs. Patchy Knicks Interior Defense
Will the Knicks actually allow Anthony to spend time guarding Boozer in the post?
It would seem this matchup could drain Melo's energy and affect him on the offensive end. The Knicks may not have much of a choice with no legitimate low-post defenders available.
If Boozer runs wild, the Knicks will have to be unconscious from deep to win.
In a big regular-season game, the Bulls will face a team nearly as beat-up as they are. They will win this game because of their defense and the Knicks' depleted frontcourt.
I have the Bulls winning 93-87.
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