Well Pippen Peoples, it has been quite a roller coater ride into the All-Star break. The Bulls have been through more up and downs than the Evans family in an episode of Good Times. You know Coach Tom Thibodeau would play the role of James Evans (Look I know the guy is white, just play along with the analogy) the strong patriarch of the family that keeps things together. Joakim Noah would play the role of Michael the “Militant one” (only he wouldn’t be a midget because he is so tall) and Taj Gibson would play JJ the artist that works so hard on his craft. (Okay he’s skinny too, roll with it people!) Every episode the odds are stacked against the Evans family and when we think their luck has finally run out and they can’t pay the rent, they figure out a solution in the end and everyone ends up smiling in the end. Will the Bulls be able to pay the rent aka stay in the playoff chase? We will go a long way in finding out this week.
The Bulls are currently in the sixth slot in the Leastern Conference tied with the Washington Wizards in the loss column. Now here’s where it gets tricky, the Bulls are one game in the loss column behind the Atlanta Hawks and the Toronto Raptors. Think I’m finished? Nope. The Bulls are only one game ahead of the seventh place Brooklyn Nets in the loss column. Got all that? Well the Bulls play the Raptors, Nets and Hawks this week before the All-Star festivities. They are all must win games. If they win them all we are talking about a possible fight for the #3 seed in the conference standings. If they lose all three games, the Bulls could be outside looking in for a playoff spot. Let’s take it one game at a time and talk about tonight’s opponent, the Atlanta Hawks.
I think Al Horford’s season ending pectoral injury is starting to catch up with the Hawks. The Hawks come to the United Center on a three game losing streak coming off the lowest scoring output of the season with 76 against the Memphis Grizzlies. Paul Millsap has done a magnificent job holding the front-line of the Hawks together, but if Taj Gibson starts (HINT,HINT, HINT) and set the tone down low, the Bulls can make an impact early and maybe get Millsap in foul trouble. Personally, when I think of the Atlanta Hawks, I only wonder if Kyle Korver will continue his consecutive game streak with a made three-point shot. (He’s at 118 at the moment.) The Bulls need to make any Hawk not named Kyle Korver hit an outside shot. Jeff Teague is in a slump these days with his outside shot. Lou Williams is more of a scorer and not a good outside shooter. Finally the Bulls need to force turnovers to create easy baskets. The Bulls cannot be seduced into an up and down, run and gun game. The Bulls need to be disciplined and execute their offense.
Carlos Boozer is day-to-day with a calf injury. If he does comes back and is in the starting lineup (Let’s hope he’s not, sorry Carlos), let’s hope he paid attention to what Taj Gibson did in the first quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers. Boozer needs to come out aggressive in the post and help Joakim Noah down low. The Bulls really don’t need those 15 foot elbow jumpers that he is prone to settle for. Let’s also hope Joakim paid attention to what he did against the Lakers and how effective he was by being aggressive and looking for his offense. Kirk Hinrich needs to make shots as well as keep Jeff Teague out of the middle. DJ Augustin needs to keep consistent and score off the bench. Jimmy Butler needs to take my advice and stop shooting three-point shots. If the Bulls do these things, they should be just fine in this game. Oh by the way, the Bulls need to score POINTS. Seems simple, but if you have watched the Bulls over the west coast road trip, you know it is feast or famine with this team. No gray areas.
As I said before, this is an important WEEK for the Bulls, and it will start tonight. The Bulls need to win to solidify their standing in the Leastern Conference.
Shooting a high percentage will certainly help the Bulls win. In case you’re wondering how Chicago has fared in shooting the ball since 1980, check out this piece by Best Tickets on NBA shooting by the numbers.