San Antonio Spurs vs. Chicago BullsUnited Center, Chicago, Il
March 11, 2014, 7:00 PM Spurs Time
TV: FSSW - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
Fun fact: A gap in between teeth is technically called "diastema." I learned this while I was trying to find a burn on Joakim Noah, who unabashedly exhibits his with every one of his notoriously emotional outbursts.
Noah has been the heart and soul of the Chicago Bulls and is a big reason why, after losing their two highest scorers, the team is still hanging onto a 35-28 record and first-round home-court advantage in the playoffs. The Bulls have been a thorn in the side of every team they've faced this season, while making winners out of anyone who's consistently taken the under on their defensively-minded games.
The problem is, I like Noah and I like the Bulls. If any team in the league reflects San Antonio's disregard for anything but winning, it's Tom Thibodeau's squad, and that, paired with Noah's incredible passion for the game, makes it hard to root against them. They have defied their post-Deng-trade expectations, going 20-10 after trading away their best non-injured player for nothing. Like the handful of entertainers who owe their unique looks to an endearing diastema -- the David Lettermans, Anthony Andersons, and that one girl from CSI -- the Bulls have made the best of their situation and become one of the most pleasant surprises of the second half of the year, even if none of us should be surprised by what they're capable of by now.
While the Bulls have overachieved since the Deng trade, the Spurs have surprised many while battling a seemingly unending deluge of injuries. Since the beginning of the year, Spurs fans have been waiting for the team to return to full health, and they're going through one of their best stretches. San Antonio has won nine of its last ten and is looking for its seventh win in a row tonight in Chi-town.
Recently, both teams picked up wins against the same foe: on Thursday, San Antonio dismantled the defending champion Miami Heat, 111-87; on Sunday, the Bulls beat LeBron's team in overtime.
Going into tonight's game, San Antonio's 46-16 record is good for best in the league, which is saying something given that they're just now playing with a full squad. San Antonio overcame the hangover of beating Miami by willing out a win against a lottery-bound Orlando Magic team on Saturday. They'll be facing a much tougher foe in Chicago, who's 19-11 at home and capable of beating anyone in the league on any given night.
Still, the Spurs are the best road team in the league for a reason. Pop can get his team to produce anywhere, and tonight's game should be no different. San Antonio will roll out a lineup meant to contain the frontcourt of Noah and Boozer. That should mean the more traditional combo of Duncan and Splitter up front, with Kawhi, Danny and Tony on the perimeter.
With D.J. Augustin and Kirk Hinrich as their point guards, and Noah their most dynamic fast-break runner, the Bulls won't be able to push the tempo and keep the pressure on the San Antonio D. That'll mean that Chicago will look to slow the game down as much as possible, which should play into San Antonio's advantage. The Spurs don't look to keep the pace up, but do run selectively. Guys like Kawhi and Patty will keep Chicago's defense honest by pressing the attack at every opportunity.
Defensively, Chicago will make it a point to keep Tony Parker out of the lane. That should leave pinholes in the D for Kawhi and Danny to work early. If they can't take advantage in the first quarter, the Spurs' vastly superior bench should be able to step in and make plays. Manu and Marco will look to attack the Bulls, and their playmaking will be key against a defensive unit that's used to shutting teams down. The Spurs will need to move the ball around, and the open man will need to hit the open shot, but the Spurs should do enough to score 95 or 100. That's usually all it takes against Chicago.
The Bulls are no offensive juggernaut; in fact, they're dead-last in points per game. One look at their roster shouldn't surprise you about that. But the team still finds ways to win. Noah has become a triple-double threat with his ability to find teammates, but Timmay will contain him better than most defenders can. The onus will come on the supporting cast to close in on open looks and keep Chicago from executing.
Matchup to watch: The trio of Duncan, Splitter and Diaw against Noah and Taj Gibson. Noah is the league's best passing big man, and Gibson has evolved into a solid all-around player who can do damage off the bench. If these sides cancel each other out, it should result in a W for SA.
Key Bench Players
Bulls perspective can be found here: Blogabull
Game Prediction: Spurs by 6.
Line in Vegas: Spurs by 5.
As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and NBA league pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.
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