Definitive Guide to Bulls vs. Clippers and Sunday's Top NBA Games

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 24, 2013

Definitive Guide to Bulls vs. Clippers and Sunday's Top NBA Games

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Sunday, bloody Sunday. The NBA can only hope that's not the case.

    Black Friday came a week early for the Association, but this one put a sad spin on the holiday. Long lines were seen at training tables, not retail outlets. Door-busting specials were replaced by potentially game-changing injuries.

    Sunday will be one of the first chances to assess the damage. Derrick Rose, who missed all of 2012-13 with a torn ACL in his left knee, has a torn meniscus in his right knee, per an official team release. The Chicago Bulls are back to battling without their superstar leader.

    If the basketball gods do any more damage, there may not be enough medical tape to go around.

    But life, as they say, must go on. And Sunday's five-game slate is a welcome remedy for a wounded basketball world.

    The Detroit Pistons take their oversized circus act under the Barclays Center big top. L.A.'s Staples Center plays host to a preseason NBA Finals pairing. Youthful athleticism is headed to both Orlando and Oklahoma City.

    And did I mention the Los Angeles Lakers are on the docket?

    All hoops is good hoops—even if the Empire State is testing that theoryand Sunday's five-game serving can't get started soon enough.

     

    Sunday's Lineup

    Detroit Pistons vs. Brooklyn Nets, 2 p.m. ET

    Chicago Bulls vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 3:30 p.m. ET

    Phoenix Suns vs. Orlando Magic, 6 p.m. ET (NBATV)

    Utah Jazz vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 7 p.m. ET

    Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 9:30 p.m. ET

     

    *Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com and accurate as of Nov. 22.

Best Matchup: Chicago Bulls vs. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Chicago Bulls might have lost their MVP, but don't expect Tom Thibodeau's team to start shopping for excuses.

    Thibs' "we have enough" mantrawhich he broke out again after the team's 97-87 defeat to the Denver Nuggets on Thursday, via ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell—will be put to the test in Sunday's showdown with the Los Angeles Clippers.

    Even without a dream Derrick Rose-Chris Paul battle to captivate the hoops world, this still stands tall as the game of the day.

    Two coaching greats, Thibodeau and Doc Rivers, step in as more than capable replacements for the game's marquee matchup. Assuming, of course, you wouldn't rather extend that claim to Carlos Boozer-Joakim Noah against Blake Griffin-DeAndre Jordan.

    This is the cliched battle of the unstoppable force (L.A.'s explosive offense) and the immovable object (Chicago's stifling defense). The Bulls have held the opposition below the century mark in each of their last eight games, while the Clippers have cracked triple digits in all but three games this season.

    But both teams also have issues to address.

    L.A. can't survive on the offensive end alone. "We know if we're not going to make shots, we have to able to rely on our defense," Griffin said, via Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times.

    Chicago has to relearn how to play without Rose after focusing its early-season effort on getting him back in the mix.

    Which side blinks first? That answer could shift the entire basketball landscape.

Must-See Individual Matchup: Pau Gasol vs. DeMarcus Cousins

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    This has the potential to debunk a lot of NBA theories.

    Back-to-the-basket scoring isn't dead. Pau Gasol's best days aren't entirely behind him. Boogie is more than just a clever name for DeMarcus Cousins.

    Chances are this game might have slipped off your grid. But consider this your life preserver; you won't want to miss this battle under the basket.

    Since Jordan Hill replaced Chris Kaman in L.A.'s starting lineup, Gasol has started to resemble, well, Gasol. No longer Mike D'Antoni's miscast stretch big, the 7-footer is back to where he belongs.

    He's double-dipped in four of his last six games and has at least 24 points in two of the last four. The big man still has some of the best shimmies and shakes in the business.

    Cousins, though, is fascinating as just a one-man show. When foul trouble doesn't send him off the floor (29.8 minutes per game), he brings a deep bag of tricks to the low block. If his playing time bumped to 36 minutes a night, he'd be at 26.0 points and 12.0 rebounds.

    ”He’s playing great,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, via CowbellKingdom.com's James Ham. “He’s just a monster. He’s huge, number one. He’s skilled, he controls the game."

    Huge, skilled and in control of the game? Sounds a lot like Gasol at his best, doesn't it?

    For old hoops heads lamenting the loss of low-post offense, this game should be a welcome blast from the past.

Who Has the Most on the Line?

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    It's the NBA's Great Depression; $185 million doesn't nearly stretch as far as it used to.

    The supposed superteam in Brooklyn is nothing more than a wildly expensive collection of broken dreams and falling stars.

    Injuries have decimated the rotation. Woeful showings have shattered owner Mikhail Prokhorov's plans for NBA domination.

    Even Nets haters are having a hard time watching this team.

    The Pistons (4-8) aren't world-beaters. But neither are the Cavaliers, Magic, Kings and Bobcats—four of the eight teams that have added to Brooklyn's mounting loss column.

    Kevin Garnett was added to the equation this summer as much for his locker room presence as his historically smooth mid-range stroke. But even the 18-year veteran can't get a handle on what's transpiring in Brooklyn.

    "I don't know," he said, via Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. "If I knew [how to fix it], I'd share it with this locker room."

    With Jason Kidd on the sidelinessomeone who was playing ball, not coaching it last seasonthings could quickly spiral out of control for this franchise. Assuming that point hasn't been reached already.

Injury Report

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    Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

    There's an uncomfortable amount of recognizable names among the players who might not be able to suit up on Sunday.

     

    Brooklyn Nets

    Brook Lopez (Ankle)

    Lopez has missed Brooklyn's last four games, which has added four more entries into the team's loss column. The big man and the Nets' chances on Sunday are both questionable.

     

    Deron Williams (Ankle)

    Williams said he's "definitely not" playing on Sunday, via ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo. So much for creating suspense.

     

    Chicago Bulls

    Derrick Rose (Knee)

    K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune first reported that Rose has a torn meniscus in his right knee that will require surgical repair. Johnson added that Rose's status for the rest of the 2013-14 season will be unclear until after the procedure.

     

    Jimmy Butler (Toe)

    The third-year swingman is on "week-to-week" status with turf toe, via ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell. I wonder if that has anything to do with his recent trip to the barber.

     

    Detroit Pistons

    Chauncey Billups (Knee)

    Billups has been a scratch in five of Detroit's first 12 games. He's questionable on Sunday, just like his ability to put points on the scoreboard at this stage of his career (33.3 field-goal percentage).

     

    Los Angeles Lakers

    Kobe Bryant (Achilles)

    With so many wounded warriors, this feels like the perfect day for the Mamba's return. Unfortunately, Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times said Bryant "is not expected" to make his 2013-14 debut just yet.

     

    Phoenix Suns

    Eric Bledsoe (Shin)

    Bledsoe told The Arizona Republic's Paul Coro that he's still having problems "walking" and hasn't started doing runs or cuts yet. He's officially questionable, but it seems like running and cutting are sort of big deals in basketball.

     

    Sacramento Kings

    Carl Landry (Hip)

    Landry's trademark shot fakes won't be seen until after the New Year.

     

    Utah Jazz

    Brandon Rush (Knee)

    He's officially listed as questionable for Sunday. Something tells me this won't be the knee on the NBA's mind, though.

     

    *Unless otherwise noted, injury information used via CBS Sports.

Pop-In Potential: Phoenix Suns vs. Orlando Magic

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    Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

    The entertainment value might hinge on the status of "mini-LeBron," but this game's worth a watch even if Eric Bledsoe is out of the action.

    These are two of the Association's best shows that no one is watching.

    The Suns (6-6) either don't understand the concept of tanking, or their talent has been grossly undervalued. Bledsoe's been a gift (20.4 points, 6.8 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals), but he's hardly the only one deserving of credit for Phoenix's strong start.

    Goran Dragic (15.7 points, 5.7 assists), Gerald Green (14.8 points on .481/.417/.759 shooting) and Miles Plumlee (10.3 points, 9.0 rebounds) haven't allowed defenses to key on Bledsoe. And this offense should only get better—2013 first-round picks Archie Goodwin (13.1 minutes per game) and Alex Len (7.8) have yet to seriously enter the equation.

    At the opposite end, Orlando's just as capable of putting out a good product.

    Victor Oladipo might be the most exciting player on the roster, but Arron Afflalo (.494/.541/.820) and Nikola Vucevic (14.9 points, 10.9 rebounds) are just as likely to turn some heads.

    Coach Jacque Vaughn's young team battles hard, particularly on its home floor. The Suns sprinted out of the gate and never stopped running.

    Both teams are athletic, and both have energy to burn. If that doesn't sound worthy of your time, then maybe this isn't the right sport for you.

     

Fantasy Stockwatch

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    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Sundays can be tough for fantasy fanatics.

    There are NFL rosters to set and NBA darts to be thrown with a typically thin schedule.

    This week is no exception. Just one-third of the league's teams are in action, while the remaining 20 make good on those day-of-rest plans.

    The small schedule may well set your lineup for you. But if you happen to be one of the lucky ones with decisions to be made, here are a couple names to plug in your active roster.

     

    The Big Guns

    Russell Westbrook

    He's still feeling some of the effects of two offseason knee surgeries, but prime-time performances are starting to come with more regularity.

    He's topped 25 points in three of his last four games and has a pair of nine-plus rebounding efforts over that stretch. His shooting percentages aren't where you'd like them to be (.413/.333/.710), but the Jazz have a way of curing all offensive ills (league-worst 106.6 points allowed per 100 possessions).

    The only potential limit to his production is if things get out of hand early. But if that happens, chances are Westbrook will have played a major role in widening that gap.

     

    Greg Monroe

    The Moose doesn't always get to run with the big guns. But he could easily look like one of the game's greats in this matchup.

    He's quieted a bit since his hot start (11.8 points, 7.4 rebounds over his last five), but maybe he's just been looking ahead to this contest. The Nets have the league's second-worst defense (105.6 points allowed per 100 possessions), as Kevin Garnett apparently transformed from stopper to matador over the summer (19.8 player efficiency allowed to opposing 4's, per 82games.com).

    Ball movement can further frustrate this Brooklyn defense, and Monroe boasts one of the finest passing skill sets among NBA bigs. This should be a field day for fantasy owners in need of points, rebounds and assists.

     

    The Sleeper

    Mike Dunleavy

    Filling Jimmy Butler's spot in Tom Thibodeau's opening lineup has treated the veteran sharpshooter quite well. He's averaged 13.0 points in two games as a starter, and his torrid shooting (51.6 three-point percentage on the season) has continued.

    Rose's addition to Chicago's injury report should only increase the offensive chances coming Dunleavy's way.

    He's never been a racehorse, so the 33-year-old doesn't necessarily want to get involved in a track meet. But the Clippers' wavering defensive focus (105.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) and a likely meeting with Jamal Crawford should present prime shooting lanes for Dunleavy to exploit.

    He isn't a big help in many other areas (3.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists). But if you're within striking distance in scoring and three-point shooting, Dunleavy can be your answer.