Feb 20, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Atlanta Hawks small forward Tracy McGrady (1) and Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) battle for a rebound during the second half at the United Center. The Bulls won 90-79. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

Dirty South Showdown: Chicago Bulls (40-11) at Atlanta Hawks (30-21)


Bulls at Hawks — 6:30pm on CSN-Chicago

With the season winding down and the playoff race hitting it’s red hot peak, games like the one between Atlanta and Chicago hold more then just regular season interest, they serve as potential playoff previews.

The Bulls had a bad night against Denver which lends to the theory many have that this team is not functional without Rose. (Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE)

But as much as the term is tossed out, tonight’s game is not really a true preview. Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton remain out for the Bulls and the Hawks are going on four months now without Al Horford.

Without these three players, all of whom their respective teams will want back for the postseason, the game isn’t a preview the way the Heat-Thunder potentially could be. But that being said, it doesn’t mean it’s a meaningful and decisive game on both side of the ball tonight.

The Bulls are in the same spot they were last year at this time — trying to close out on the Heat and the rest of the East and secure home court advantage throughout the postseason. The Hawks are sort of in the same spot as well, battling for the better seed and chasing the Magic. They are a lot closer then they are initially given credit for.

Atlanta as of right now sits just 2 1/2 games behind the Magic on paper. Both teams are separated by games played and this pads the Magic’s lead but if the Hawks can hold their own down the stretch, when the games begin to level out, the Hawks will be sitting pretty. RIght now their the sixth seed in the East but with the will to play and win this team has, that will change.

The Hawks aren’t even one whole week removed from a thrilling 4 OT win against the Jazz. That’s the kind of resilience that runs deeper then just holding out for the season. Atlanta showed, in that game, that they don’t know what quit means. That’s something that needs to be read into, especially by Chicago, especially considering how close the games between the two teams have been.

This final meeting of the season tonight is for all the marbles. Chicago and Atlanta have split the difference in the first two games with the Bulls winning the third meeting. The Bulls can win the season series, yes yet another one, by winning tonight. They’ve already won the season series against the Bucks and would like nothing more then to add Atlanta — a playoff contender — as a notch.

The problem is Rose and his absence. This Bulls team is now 100 percent bi-polar without him beating the Heat and Celtics but losing to the Nuggets and Grizzlies.

The Hawks are coming ready to ball tonight and that’s going to be a problem. Yeah, the Bulls hate losing and they haven’t lost back-to-back games in over a year, but they just lost at home, another thing they never do. Derrick Rose is hurt which never happens.

Joe Johnson, the Hawks stellar two-guard, and Josh Smith are going to try and lead the Hawks tonight and if the 4 OT game was any wiff of what their capable of, the Bulls may be looking at splitting the difference in the season series.

But as good and ready as the Hawks are, this team is bi-polar on a Carlos Boozer level — you never know what you’re going to get. One night you get a few points from Deng and the bench the next John LUcas throws down 24 and the next night you get no production from anyone.

It’s hard to predict what this Bulls team is going to do but the hardest thing is the bittersweet dichotomy we have swallow. Either we get and electric Bulls team that produces at a playoff caliber level, or we get a team drag gin it’s feet in the mud using the “If Only We Had Rose” crutch to save themselves from total embarrassment.

The hardest part of it all is no matter the outcome of tonight’s game, no one will still have any idea what this team is like without Rose. The closer we get to the playoffs and the more mysterious the identity of a Rose-less Bulls team is doesn’t bode well for the theory we all had that this team is functional sans it’s MVP.

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