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If the Knicks-Bulls match-up is only the 4th most entertaining match we have on Christmas Day, the other three must be pretty darn good.
If you told both Tom Thibodeau and Mike D'Antoni that the Bulls and the Knicks would be sitting 3rd and 6th in the East Conference respectively, they would have never believed it prior to the season starting. Well, on the 22nd of December, that's exactly where the Chicago Bulls and New York find themselves. Remember, these are teams that finished 8th (Chicago) and out of the playoff spots (New York) about half a year ago.
The Knicks made some big changes to their roster in the summer of 2010. After many years of attempting to lure the 3 most coveted free agents in 2010 in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, New York had their hearts broken when neither of the 'Big Three' decided to go to the Big Apple. However, they made a big splash for offensive powerhouse Amar'e Stoudemire as well as point-guard Raymond Felton. Now, they're playing with a renewed belief, with better team offense (although their defense at times is a little iffy), and the crowd now have faith in a team that looked to go on a barren run of mediocrity for the next few years.
Landry Fields, a rookie picked in the second round, has been more than just a pleasant surprise. He has been an integral part of the team's current success. The Knicks have currently been in a mini-slump, ever since Paul Pierce and the men in green narrowly defeated the Knicks. Amar'e Stoudemire's streak of 30+ PPG has ended, and the team will need to get back on track if they are to beat their Christmas Day opponents. Beating Oklahoma City on Wednesday night was a good start.
As good as New York have been, the Bulls have been even better. They are led by the sensational Derrick Rose, who has not only become a big-time scorer, but has also improved on his ability to see the floor and make plays. Joakim Noah had also continued to grow year after year, turning into a real gem for the Bulls at center, but unfortunately, he is set to miss this game and many games to follow after sustaining a nasty hand injury. Carlos Boozer, having come back from his own injury, has settled very nicely into the Bulls team, rebounding the ball very well and also relieving some of the scoring off Derrick Rose's back.
With Carlos Boozer and Derrick Rose on the floor, in addition to hot-shooting Luol Deng and Kyle Korver, you would think that Chicago are known for their offensive power. On the contrary. Chicago are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, thanks to defensive-minded Thibodeau, who was a former assistant of Doc Rivers at Boston. The Bulls have some tough-nosed defensive players such as Ronnie Brewer and Joakim Noah, and they rebound the ball outstandingly.
Chicago streak: W 2
New York streak: W 1
Chicago road record: 7-6
New York home record: 7-7
Chicago projected starting 5:
PG: Derrick Rose; SG: Keith Bogans; SF: Luol Deng; PF: Carlos Boozer; C: Kurt Thomas
New York projected starting 5:
PG: Raymond Felton; SG: Landry Fields; SF: Wilson Chandler; PF: Danilo Gallinari; C: Amar'e Stoudemire
The teams have already met once, with New York getting an impressive win in Chicago. Now they'll be looking for the same result on their home floor. The Bulls are missing their key defensive stalwart down low in Noah, and that could be very problematic as the Bulls will struggle to contain Amar'e Stoudemire. The Bulls will need a big performance from Boozer, and an even bigger one from Rose. How will Chicago handle what surely will turn out to be a feverish New York crowd that is hungry for some Christmas delight?
Prediction to win: NEW YORK KNICKS