Bulls-Spurs Preview

San Antonio Spurs Status Check:
Record: 47-14
Division: 11-2
Conference: 26-10
Home Record: 24-3
Last 10 Games: 8-2
Streak: Won 2
Last game: 114-75 win over Detroit
PPG: 104.8 (4th)
Opponents PPG: 95.7 (7th)
Offensive Rating: 109.7 (6th)
Defensive Rating: 100.2 (3rd)
Pace: 94..4 (7th)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .539 (2nd)
Turnover Percentage: .139 (14th)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: .745 (6th)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: .202 (30th)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: .211 (11th)
Opp. eFG%: .471 (3rd)
Opp. TO%: .140 (11th)
Opp. FT/FGA: .184 (4th)
Leading scorer: Tony Parker (21.0)

Stats from Basketball-Reference

San Antonio Injury Report:
Boris Diaw: questionable (strained lower back)
Gary Neal: probable (sore foot/Achilles)
Tony Parker: out (sprained ankle)

Overview:
The Bulls usually have an excuse when they lose this year. Playing without their best player, it’s been an uphill battle all season, often in games that they were overmatched. But that excuse didn’t fly when they fell to the Spurs on February 11.

It wasn’t just San Antonio’s point guard that was out of last month’s contest, as Tony Parker was sat to rest, but also Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson.

The Bulls are talked about as a team that is always competitive, no matter who is available to play that night, but the Spurs are probably the best at it. With Parker, Ginobili, Duncan and Danny Green out against the Heat, San Antonio nearly pulled off an impressive upset. Gregg Popovic is never afraid to rest anyone, because he knows the others will pick up the slack.

Speaking of Green, the shooting guard was the highest rebounder for the Spurs in the February game against Chicago, with six boards. The entire Spurs team brought down just 26 rebounds in the game. Joakim Noah (15) and Luol Deng (11) combined to match that total themselves. Chicago had 17 offensive rebounds, to two for San Antonio, and 49 overall, a 23-rebound margin.

The Spurs offensive rebound rate was 5.9, while Chicago’s was 41.5. The Bulls had 20 second chance points, to just four against them, but they still lost.

That’s because Chicago turned it over 19 times, and gave up 29 points off those turnovers. The Spurs, who were led by starting point guard Nando de Colo, gave up had just eight points off of eight turnovers. Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Nate Robinson each recorded three turnovers, while Chicago’s other starter, Rip Hamilton, coughed it up twice.

If the turnovers weren’t bad enough, the Bulls also allowed San Antonio to shoot 52 percent from the field and 50 percent (8-16) from deep (Chicago was 2-12 from three). Remember, this is the Spurs without some of their best offensive players. Kawhi Leonard scored a career-high 26 points on 11-18 shooting, while All-Star Luol Deng went 4-13 and finished with eleven points and eleven boards.

The Bulls face a more loaded team than the last time, but they will avoid Parker for the second time this year. The Spurs point guard, who was having a great season and had an amazing February, injured his ankle against the Kings and is expected to be out four months.

The Bulls grabbed a moral victory, in a year of them last time out against the Pacers, keeping it close. The reason I was pleased with the game was because of the bench. Tom Thibodeau has made it clear he doesn’t trust many of the reserves this season. Once you get past Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson (who both often start) there’s Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler. That has meant a lot of minutes for starters, especially Deng and Noah.

But, on the second night of a back-to-back, Thibs caved. He played Marquis Teague, Vladimir Radmanovic and Nazr Mohammed for most of the second quarter. Teague played the entire quarter, VladRad and Nazr each played more than ten minutes. Butler also played the entire quarter, while Belinelli played most. And you know what? All of these guys had positive plus/minuses. Noah and Deng didn’t even need to kill themselves to keep this one close.

Add the fact that they were playing against Indiana’s starters for much of the quarter and it’s only more impressive. Paul George (played 8:40 in the second quarter), David West (9:40), Roy Hibbert (4:04), Lance Stephenson (7:03) and George Hill (4:04) all recorded negative or neutral plus/minuses.

The Bulls bench could hold even with the Pacers, after Chicago’s starters had already fallen behind in the first quarter, but they couldn’t give the starters a break the night before? Noah, Deng and the rest of the starters were on the court to finish a game against the Nets, a game in which Chicago led by as many as 20 in the final frame. But Teague and VladRad and Daequan Cook couldn’t get off the bench.

“There’s no way they can hold this 20-point lead,” some said on Twitter. I disagreed, and thought playing Luol Deng the entire fourth quarter on the first night of a back-to-back was a bad idea. The fact that Lu shot 5-13 the next night did nothing to change my mind.

The point, if there is one, on this “I told you so” rant is not to say that the bench is good, or that they can do this every game. I do not have much faith in Teague as he’s young, or Nazr as he’s old, or VladRad as he’s horrible at basketball. But they can give the starters a rest. They won’t win the Bulls many games, but that doesn’t mean they’ll lose them every game they enter.

If you have any doubt, look at the Indiana game. Or look across to the other team tonight and see what a bench can do when it’s trusted.

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