Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan have helped the Los Angeles Clippers do a nice job overcoming the absence of a star player.
Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah now hope to do the same for the Chicago Bulls.
Chicago might have an easier time doing so Sunday if big men Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson are back on the court to face the Clippers, who have been more successful at United Center than any other team over the past decade.
Article continues below ...
The initial shock following a major injury led to ugly defeats for both teams. Similar to Los Angeles falling 131-108 to Oklahoma City on Feb. 8 after losing Blake Griffin to elbow surgery, the Bulls lost 98-86 at home to sub-.500 Charlotte on Wednesday in their first game after learning Derrick Rose had a torn meniscus.
Chicago (37-22), though, regrouped Friday to defeat Minnesota 96-89 despite Gasol sitting out with an illness and Gibson leaving with an ankle injury.
"It is hard, but we have enough bodies and weapons on our bench to where guys can mix and match and play different positions and guard different positions," said Butler, who had 28 points and a season-high 12 rebounds after scoring 25 over the previous two games.
The Clippers (38-21), meanwhile, bounced back after the Oklahoma City loss to win four in a row. They followed with narrow losses to Western Conference contenders Memphis and Houston, but responded with a 97-79 road win over the Southeast Division-leading Grizzlies on Friday.
"We need Blake, don’t get it twisted. We need him and we need him badly," Paul said after scoring 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter. "But what it’s doing is giving everyone opportunities to step up a little bit."
Jordan has certainly done that, grabbing 22 rebounds Friday for his seventh straight game with at least 15. Jordan has averaged 19.7 boards in that span along with 18.4 points, about seven above his season average.
Keeping him off the glass will be partly left to Noah, who is averaging 13.3 rebounds in the past six games. He’s also helped make up for the absence of Rose – out four to six weeks – by recording eight assists in each of the last two.
The pressure on Noah will be lessened if Gasol, the NBA leader with 38 double-doubles, returns as expected. Gibson appears less likely to play, and his presence was a major factor in the first meeting. He had 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting in a 105-89 win Nov. 17.
"Whoever we have out there, just get the job done," coach Tom Thibodeau said.
The Bulls snapped a four-game skid in the series, but that November game was in Los Angeles. The Clippers are 8-1 at United Center dating to the 2004-05 season. That’s easily the best winning percentage there during that span – even better than the Bulls (.653) – and the most wins by any visitor other than Orlando (10).
However, a major reason the Clippers have won four straight in Chicago has been Griffin, who’s averaged 25.7 points and 11.7 rebounds in the last three meetings there.
Paul has been finding other sources of offense and is averaging 12.5 assists in eight games since Griffin got hurt. J.J. Redick is among them, scoring 18 points Friday as Los Angeles improved to 24-6 when the sharpshooter tops his season average of 14.7. Jamal Crawford has stepped up with 21.1 points per game over the last nine.
"We can see how consistent we can be," reserve forward Glen Davis said. "We have so much talent on this team. If we can translate it into defense, offense and have that energy, we can get hot and do some real damage."