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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs @ Chicago Bulls

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The streaking Spurs head to the Windy City to face the reeling Chicago Bulls.

Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio Spurs @ Chicago Bulls

United Center, Chicago, Illinois
January 22, 2015, 7:00 p.m. Spurs Time
TV: TNT - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI

Two teams sporting the same record will face off tonight, but you wouldn't know it by the temperature check of their respective fan bases. The Spurs have won four in a row, looking the best they have all season thanks to their first clean bill of health. The last win came on Tuesday in Denver, as San Antonio beat the Nuggets, 109-99, in a game that could've been won by a bigger margin.

Meanwhile frustration is mounting in Chicago, most recently after playing the part of the Washington Generals in a demoralizing loss to the resurgent Cavs. They've now lost six of their last eight and over at Blog a Bull they're asking if it's the right time to hit the panic button.

Not too long ago, the name Jimmy Butler was being thrown around alongside James Harden and Stephen Curry as early MVP candidates. It was a longshot, but Butler's play merited the attention of all those who'd seen the wing step up his play after turning down the front office's contract offer and becoming a free agent. At that time, he was looking like a surefire max player, and even led to us at PtR questioning who we'd rather have: Butler or Kawhi Leonard.

With Kawhi's return from injury lifting the Spurs' play to new heights, that question seems a bit of a no-brainer. Sure, his scoring numbers don't yet match Butler's, but his impact -- even on a team with three future Hall of Famers -- can't be understated. The Spurs are once again looking like an elite team, one that won't allow flailing teams like Chicago to bounce back against them.

Last season, the Bulls turned adversity into an identity, formed around the gutsy play of Joakim Noah, who's now out alongside fellow starter Mike Dunleavy. It's left a big hole, not just in the multifaceted play he brings on both sides of the floor, but in the presence inside the huddle, as well.

Dunleavy meanwhile isn't a transcendent player, but there's something to be said for what he brought to the Bulls. It's mostly things veteran Kirk Hinrich, who's stepped into the starting lineup, all does, but not quite as well. Kirk's a better ball-handler, sure, but when on the floor with Derrick Rose that's not really a concern, and he hasn't brought the shot-making needed to compensate for physical shortcomings. With Butler matching up against Kawhi, Hinrich will get the assignment against Danny Green, who should win the battle on both ends.

The Bulls will turn things around at some point soon, but not likely against a Spurs team with its foot on the gas. This isn't the same Thibodeau defense we're used to seeing (they gave up 121 points at home to Orlando a few games back), and is one I see Pop exploiting all night long. San Antonio's also much deeper at the moment, and I see them pulling away any time the second units are matched up.

Matchup to watch: Tim Duncan vs. Pau Gasol. After teasing Spurs fans with the idea of joining the Silver and Black this summer, Gasol ended up in Chicago and is having an excellent year. I think Kawhi can contain Butler, while Derrick Rose is a wild card as to what kind of player will show up on a given night. The battle inside, however, including limiting the athletic Taj Gibson, can really set the tone in this one.

vs.

Chicago Bulls (27-16)

San Antonio Spurs (27-16)

January 22, 2015

United Center, Chicago, Illinois

7:00 p.m. CST

TV: TNT

Radio: WOAI 1200AM

Starters

Derrick Rose

PG

Tony Parker

Kirk Hinrich

SG

Danny Green

Jimmy Butler

SF

Kawhi Leonard

Taj Gibson

PF

Tiago Splitter

Pau Gasol

C

Tim Duncan


Game prediction: Spurs by 7.

For the Bulls' perspective, visit Blog a Bull.

As always, Tony must dominate Fisher, and you can get your San Antonio Spurs tickets from Daniel Farias with Spurs Sports & Entertainment: Tel: 210-444-5607 | dfarias@attcenter.com