The Chicago Bulls got back on track with a big win over the Indiana Pacers on Monday night. On Wednesday night, they’ll look to start a streak when they take on the lowly Brooklyn Nets who will be without star guard Jeremy Lin.
It’s hard to believe that we’re already two months into the season. There have been a lot of ups and downs with this team and fortunately, things are currently on an “up.”
Chicago will be hosting Brooklyn on Wednesday night, and they’ll hardly have a better opportunity to pick up a win all year. But, not so fast. Despite losing star guard Jeremy Lin to injury, the Nets are on also coming off a win. On Monday night, they beat the top team in the Southeast Division, the Charlotte Hornets, thanks to an off-balance 3-pointer from Randy Foye as time expired.
The win moves Brooklyn to 8-22 on the year, while the Bulls are now 15-16.
Chicago continues to be a solid home team, while the Nets are absolutely terrible when playing on the road. When they play as the visiting squad, Brooklyn is 1-14 for the year. Considering how much better the Bulls are when they are playing at home, you’d have to think that Chicago is about to turn their Monday victory over Indiana into a streak after Wednesday night’s matchup.
Of course, no such thing as a sure thing. The Nets shouldn’t have been able to run with the Hornets, much less beat them, and the Bulls got blown out when they played a similarly struggling Dallas Mavericks team earlier this season.
Let’s take a look at a few keys to this game and see if we can’t figure out who has the edge in this one.
Dec 23, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez (8) argues with a player during the fourth quarter of the game against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center. The Hornets defeated the Bulls 103-91. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Lopez vs. Lopez
It’s Brook Lopez vs. Robin Lopez. These brothers, who played together at Stanford, will look up in a battle of traditional big men. Both players love to back it down and play tough interior defense.
While Brook doesn’t always line up at the arc to launch attempts, it might be something to watch for in this matchup. In their last matchup, on October 31, Robin played 19 minutes with just four points and five rebounds on 1-for-5 shooting. On the other hand, Brook played 21 minutes and scored 13 points with two rebounds.
It was a huge win for the Bulls, 118-88, but a majority of those contributions came from players not named Lopez.
As the season has progressed, Robin has taken on more significance to the Chicago offense, but more importantly on defense. He’s a key piece to their interior defense and rim protection, capable of playing back-to-the-basket offense and has sneaky good hands for a big man, something reminiscent of former Bull, Joakim Noah.
The book is out on Robin, however, and there are definitely areas where he struggles. One of those places is on the perimeter. The perimeter is a place that Brooklyn has shown they are not afraid to go with their big man Brook. San Antonio had an absolute field day with Robin and his limitations on Christmas. Watch to see if Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson tries a similar approach on Wednesday night.
Dec 26, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Michael Carter-Williams (7) shoots over Indiana Pacers guard Rodney Stuckey (2) during the first half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
The Carter-Williams Question
Michael Carter-Williams is back. MCW made his return to action on Monday night against the Pacers. His last action before Monday? Well, that would have been October 31, against the Nets. He played just four minutes and was still new to the team, unsure of what his role would be.
Fast-forward two months and we have a much better idea of what Chicago would like Carter-Williams to be for them going forward.
MCW was subbed in for Dwyane Wade at 4:39 of the first quarter. He was paired in the backcourt with Rajon Rondo. He then worked with Jerian Grant while Rondo sat. His defensive effort was significant and noticeable. And because of this lackluster Bulls squad, he looked alive and looked good. Basically, it was surprising because Carter-Williams, who was a cast off from the Milwaukee Bucks, looked like a player that actually brought something to the table that Chicago desperately needed.
It would seem likely that Carter-Williams would be a substitute for Rondo. MCW played point guard at every stop on his way to the Bulls, but he was being played at the two alongside either Rondo or Grant.
Where the development gets more interesting is the fourth quarter. Chicago has been atrocious in the fourth, but in a big win Monday they played a strong fourth to close out the game. During that final quarter, Rondo never left the bench. In his place was a Grant-MCW combination for the first few minutes of the quarter and also to close out the game.
If Grant is the closing point guard at this point and they are going to combine him with Carter-Williams to close things out, it might actually work. Rondo isn’t adding much and Carter-Williams is the most capable defender Chicago has available to them in the backcourt.
Dec 26, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) reacts after dunking against the Indiana Pacers in the final seconds of the game during the second half at the United Center. The Bulls won 90-85. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
We managed to pick the correct winner on Monday and thankfully it was the Bulls. So let’s take a look at what we think will shake out on Wednesday night.
As we noted earlier, Brooklyn is a terrible team when they’re playing on the road. They have an awful 1-14 mark as the visiting team and that cannot bode well for them when they visit the United Center. On the other side of it, Chicago is 9-6 as the home squad. Homecourt advantage is real and should play a big role in how this game shakes out.
Brooklyn is going to be without Jeremy Lin, again. This means they’re going to continue to rely on players like Joe Harris, Isaiah Whitehead and Sean Kilpatrick. That isn’t necessarily bad news as Kilpatrick has been a revelation for the Nets season and scored 23 points, shooting 4-for-7 from 3-point range on Monday night.
Overall, the matchups favor the Bulls. Jimmy Butler is the best player in this game and despite his limitations, Rondo isn’t going to be facing Lin. Taj Gibson is going to have a tough matchup with Trevor Booker, but it should be a great one to watch as a fan.
We’re hoping that we pick the right winner in Chicago for consecutive games. The Bulls have the advantage in the starting lineup, but where they’ll really need to step up if they want to win is from the bench. Carter-Williams will have to be counted on for his defense and both Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott will be called upon to provide some much-needed offensive firepower while the starters sit.