Coming off their second loss in a row, one would think the Washington Wizards would have a bit of a reprieve tonight. But the Chicago Bulls, who it was widely assumed gave up on their season when they traded Luol Deng, have won five in a row and are still tough as nails on defense. Let's see how this one goes.
Where and when? Game time is 8 p.m. in Chicago.
Are they good? Yes and no. The Bulls are 17-18 and hunting for their sixth win in a row. At the same time, those five wins have come against possibly the weakest stretch of the schedule they'll face. Check out some of these opponents. Charlotte? Milwaukee? Boston? There's a very good chance Chicago comes back down to earth, and tonight just might be the night.
Who's out? Washington's missing Glen Rice, Jr. and Al Harrington tonight. Derrick Rose is out for the Bulls, plus Jimmy Butler is questionable.
What are they good at? Defense, and that's even without Deng around. Chicago is allowing an even one point per possession this season, the second best mark in the NBA. Deng helped a lot in that he soaked up around 40 minutes each night, could cover almost anyone and had the length to be a very disruptive help defender. Even though he's gone, Chicago is still very good, largely due to a mix of intensity and length. A lot of the defensive schemes that have popped up in the last few years owe a lot to Thibodeau's work in Boston and Chicago, particularly his belief in loading up the strong side of the court and limiting transition opportunities. The personnel helps, but you could replace the entire Bulls lineup with a WNBA squad and Thibodeau could probably coach them to a top ten defense.
What are they bad at? They can't score. Like, at all. Deng was Chicago's best shot creator, and he's someone who should be maybe the third or fourth option on a contender. No one on the team is a natural shot creator and as a result the Bulls are forced to rush a lot of long jumpers. Carlos Boozer has been expected to fill this role by a lot of fans, but he's always been at his best cutting to the basket and running pick and pops, something that requires other players who can draw defense's attention. Basically the Bulls have no chance of winning any game where they give up more than 95 points and that's not going to change until Rose is back.
Who's going to win? I'm going with Washington here. Chicago is going to do everything possible to give up long twos to Ariza, Beal, Webster and Wall, but I think the Wizards will still be able to score just enough to get the W. Chicago's home court advantage helps and Mike Dunleavy has been on fire lately, but if the Wizards bring their A game, they should win comfortably. In fact, even if they only bring their B+ game, this should still be a win.