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Open Thread and Contest: Game 34

Regular Season Game 34
Bulls (20-15) at Wizards (19-14)
Verizon Center
7 PM

Previous Results: Bulls 112, Wizards 94.  

It's probably a little much to call the Chicago Bulls a personal obsession of mine, but I've been very interested in this team for a long time.  There are a number of reasons.  First, my roomate and my best friend are both Chicago natives and huge Bulls fans.  We've had a lot of discussions about both our teams, and to raise the stakes a bit, I proposed a bet to my roomate that the Wizards would finish with more regular season wins than the Bulls.  In addition, back when I blogged at the old site, I made a similar offer with Matt at Blogabull after he posted his Bulls preview for the NBA Blog Previews project, although the stakes were not money-related.  Alas, Matt did not accept, but I wonder whether I would be sitting here at this site if I didn't propose that wager.  

But there's more to it than just those two aspects.  For one, the Bulls were the victims of Washington's first playoff series victory since the 1982 season, and the shot Gilbert Arenas hit to win Game 5 is one of my all-time favorite Wizards memories.  For another, the Bulls and Wizards are polar opposites in style, as Ivan Carter discussed.

The Wizards love to put points on the board and have the league's second-best scoring attack behind the Phoenix Suns. The Bulls thrive on defense -- they rank near the top of the league in steals, rebounds and opponents' field goal percentage.

The Wizards ride the offensive brilliance of guard Gilbert Arenas. The Bulls are personified by the muscles and heart of center Ben Wallace.

Despite their contrasting styles, they've both had a similar journey this season.  Both started out slowly (the Wizards started 4-9, the Bulls 3-9, including a 1-6 record on the annual circus road trip) and have come on as of late.  The Bulls are 17-6 since their poor start; the Wizards 15-5.  At this point, they both have identical records and are in a virtual tie for 5th place in the conference.  

Since the Wizards 2005 playoff series victory, the Bulls have won 4 of the last 5 matchups, including the 112-94 beatdown at the United Center earlier this year.  The Bulls match up better than any team against the Wizards on both ends of the court.  On offense, the Bulls' motion offense is death for the Wizards, because they run guys off screens, hoping to get a good shot.  The Wizards stand a chance against a 1 on 1-style offense, but against the Bulls, who force you to guard your man heavily off the ball, the Wizards really struggle.  Ben Gordon continually tears up the Wizards defense when the two teams play.  On the defensive end, the Bulls are one of the few teams that has multiple wing defenders to corral Arenas and Caron Butler.  Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng do a great job of defending the Wizards' dynamic duo, and the Bulls can also rely on guys like Thabo Sefolosha and Tyrus Thomas when necessary.  Finally, with Ben Wallace in the middle, it's even harder to get to the rim on the Bulls defense.  Add it all up, and it's a nightmare matchup for the Wizards.

Still, the Bulls have struggled recently, blowing big leads in losses to Phoenix, New Jersey, and Houston.  They also haven't been tested much on the road since the circus trip (a failure, to say the least), and the Wizards are a tough out in the phonebooth.  The Wizards have also been off for 3 days since the Toronto debacle, and they'll be ready to play a team that is becoming their rival in the Eastern Conference.  In the end, it's going to be a really great game, and we should learn a whole lot about both of these teams.

Bulls blogs: Just go to Blogabull, it's one of the best team blogs out there, period.

Your lines for tonight, via Vegas Insider:

Wizards at Bulls: Wizards by 2.5.
Over/Under on Big 3: 70.9 points.

This is an open game thread, so post away, especially if you're the two friends mentioned at the top.  Go register so we can get some playful banter back and forth.