The New York Knicks (1-2) will visit the Chicago Bulls (2-1) tonight at 7:00pm CST on TNT.
Coming off a pasting of the Portland Trail Blazers, the Bulls will look to move 2-0 at home, 3-1 overall. However, it will be far from easy, as they will play a Knicks team that has played much better than their record indicates.
Coming off an offseason where they acquired Amar'e Stoudemire, Anthony Randolph, Timofey Mozgov and Raymond Felton, the Knicks have played very hard this season in the early going.
After beating the Toronto Raptors, 98-93 on opening night, the Knicks had two hard defeats, losing by a combined 10 points to the Boston Celtics and Trail Blazers.
The Bulls, on the other hand, are coming off two straight wins, beating the Detroit Pistons by 10 points and the Trail Blazers by 12.
The key for the Bulls tonight will be to stop the dangerous Mike D'Antoni offense. It is an offensive strategy based on running-and-gunning, and the Bulls have to make sure that they pick the right spots when they want to run with the Knicks.
Holding the Pistons to 91 points was a solid defensive showing for the Bulls, especially considering the 53 points Detroit scored by halftime.
They will need another defensive effort tonight where they allow less than 100 points if they are going to win.
Without further delay, here are the ways the Tom Thibodeau-run Bulls defense can outpace the Mike D'Antoni-run Knicks offense.
Rebounding will keep the New York Knicks from running in transition, and maybe the Bulls can do some running of their own. But it all starts and ends off rebounding.
If the Bulls are going to hold the Knicks offense to below 100 points, they will need to out-rebound the Knicks, who have only one player over 6'11" in their current rotation in Mozgov.
One thing on the Bulls' side is that they have Joakim Noah, the second-best rebounder in the NBA thus far this season. Noah averaged a career-high 11.0 rebounds per game last season.
Against the Knicks last season, Noah averaged 12.5 points and 15.0 rebounds in the two contests between the two teams.
So far this season, the Knicks and Bulls are tied in rebounds per game at 46. However, last season, the Bulls were the best rebounding team in the league, at 44.5 rebounds per game.
The Knicks, on the other hand, were 23rd in the league, at 40.4 rebounds per game.
Out-rebounding the Knicks will be a key factor for the Bulls tonight, because if the Knicks out-rebound the Bulls, they will get out in transition and get their running game going, something that would plague the Bulls defensively.
Look for a fast-paced game overall, but if the Bulls can out-rebound the Knicks, it would really slow their offense down and let the Bulls be the team that's running-and-gunning.
Playing a fast-paced team like the Knicks could make opposing teams fall into the trap of running at the same fast pace, instead of running their own offensive gameplan.
The Bulls must play smart tonight. Running with the Knicks, instead of following their own offensive gameplan, could be dangerous for the Bulls.
Running is fine. With the athletes the Bulls have, they are a running team. However, they have to pick their spots on when they will run with the Knicks, and when they will slow the tempo down and play their style of basketball.
D'Antoni does a great job of getting other teams to fall into the trap of running with his offense, and that in turn messes up the other team's offensive gameplan and defense.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is a defensive coach, so he will surely preach defense first, and offense second.
The Bulls are a running team, so getting out on the fast break is a part of their gameplan, however, it is awfully easy to fall into the Knicks' run-and-gun trap.
Playing smart will be a key to tonight's game; the Bulls will have to pick their spots on when to run, and when to slow it down and play a halfcourt game.
One thing is for sure: they can't let the Knicks dictate the way they're going to play offensively. How the Bulls pick their spots on when to run will be interesting to watch tonight.
Bulls fans heard all offseason about the improvements star guard Derrick Rose made on the defense.
So far this season, Rose has shown slight improvement staying in front of his man in one-on-one situations, however, Rose still has a tendency to get lost during pick-and-rolls.
His counterpart tonight will be Raymond Felton, who's averaging 16 points and 5.7 assists per game in three games played. Felton isn't a household name in the NBA, but he is one of the more reliable guards in the NBA when he's mentally tuned in, and he's been working well with star forward Amar'e Stoudemire on the pick-and-rolls.
Felton is no Steve Nash, but the Knicks will run several pick-and-rolls tonight, something Rose has his troubles with defensively.
Nevertheless, Rose feels that his defense can be a strength thanks to his athleticism.
"I'm happy about my defense," Rose said. "I think that I can be a hassle on the defensive side, with guys throwing the ball any kind of way. I think that I can get in the passing lanes, blocking shots, trying to get steals every time, just using my athleticism."
Felton isn't all that athletic, but he will use his shooting and basketball IQ when attacking Derrick Rose on offense.
The Bulls will need Rose to step up defensively and slow down Felton. The high volume of pick-and-rolls might be a problem tonight for Rose, but he needs to fight over the screens and prevent Felton from getting his teammates going.
As long as the Bulls play team basketball, like they have the first three games this season, they should be able to handle the new look Knicks.
Taj Gibson will have his hands full all night guarding Amar'e Stoudemire, but during Stoudemire's days in Phoenix, it would usually be Noah who took on the challenge of guarding the five-time NBA All-Star.
Another thing to watch will be how Luol Deng responds in the game after his career-high 40 point game against the Trail Blazers.
Deng needs to remain aggressive during the absence of Carlos Boozer; the Bulls will need many more big games out of the small forward the next few weeks until Boozer can make his return.
There's no doubt the Bulls start and end with Derrick Rose, because he has got to have a big showing on national TV tonight. Knowing Rose, he always shows up when the lights are shining their brightest.
Look for a big game out of Rose, and hopefully, another Bulls win.
However, there's no doubt the game could easily turn into the track meet, just what the Knicks will want tonight at the United Center.
Predicted Outcome: Bulls Win, 113-96
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