The basics: Chicago (32-38) at Washington (16-55). The Bulls are 11-26 on the road (ugh), while the Wizards are 11-24 at home (double ugh).
Advanced stuff: Chicago is currently ranked 20th in Offensive Efficiency (104.1 points per 100 possessions) and 18th in Defensive Efficiency (105.5 points give up per 100 possessions). Washington is ranked 26th (101.7) and dead last (111.3), respectively. So the Bulls certainly aren’t great, but — by the numbers — they’re a lot better than the Wizards.
The season series: Chicago leads 2-1 due to a couple home wins, 117-110 on December 6 (behind Luol Deng’s 26 points) and 98-86 on January 9 (thanks to 22 points from Ben Gordon and 9 assists from Derrick Rose). But they were beaten — actually, make that humiliated – by the Wizards (113-90) on February 27…in front of President Barack Obama, no less. (And the Prez made the trip to the Verizon Center specifically to see his hometown team. Fail.) Let’s hope we don’t see a repeat of that performance.
Trends: The Bulls have won nine of 14 and 10 of their last 16 matchups with the Wizards. BUT…they’ve lost 11 of their last 14 games in Washington.
The stakes: For Washington? Record-wise, they’re the worst team in the Eastern Conference and the second-worst (to Sacramento) in the league. They’re playing for nothing but pride, at this point. Assuming that a 16-win team has any of that left. Still, this game is the first of a three-game home stand for the Wizards, who are coming off a winless four-game Western Conference road trip in which they lost all four games by an average of 18.25 points. That could make them a little feisty.
Meanwhile, Chicago is currently eighth in the East, and they’re trying to stay there. The Bulls are a scant one game ahead of the Bobcats, 1.5 games up on the Bucks, two games in front of the Nets, and 3.5 games ahead of the Pacers and Knicks. If any of those three teams are going to challenge for that final playoff spot, my hypothetical money’s on Charlotte.
Injuries: To be blunt, the Wizards are like a M.A.S.H. unit. Washington is, of course, still without Gilbert Arenas (left knee), Brendan Haywood (out indefinitely due to right wrist surgery), Etan Thomas (torn left knee ligament), DeShawn Stevenson (lower back pain), Caron Butler (right hamstring tightness) and Juan Dixon (strained right Achilles’ tendon). Note that Bulter is listed only as “questionable” despite having missed the last five games. He might have wanted to make his dramatic return at home, though.
For Chicago, Luol Deng is still out with that stress fracture, and, at this point, I’m beginning to think he’s out for the season. I mean, this is the 14th day of his two-week rest period and Deng has said he’s still dealing with “some discomfort.” If that’s the case, there’s no way he’s going to play anytime soon. But the $71-million question is: Do the Bulls even need him at this point?
As Brian Hanley of the Chicago Sun-Times put it: “Salmons is averaging 20.1 points since the Bulls acquired him from Sacramento on Feb. 19, and he has averaged 28 points on 63.1 percent shooting in the last four games. Salmons has an inside-outside offensive game that has been lacking withDeng, and his defense also is above what Deng has shown. Deng — who also missed eight games with an ankle sprain and three with a hamstring strain — is averaging 14.1 points on 44.8 percent shooting, his worst numbers in both categories since his rookie season. The Bulls are 5-5 without Deng and have taken a one-game lead in the race for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth. The new running Bulls are averaging 105 points in Deng’s absence — a pace that would rate among the NBA’s top offenses if extended over a full season. Quite simply, without Deng, the Bulls are playing their best basketball in two seasons.”
Talk about things that make you go “hmmm…”
They’re hot, hot, hot: John Salmons is averaging 28 points and on 63.1 percent shooting in the last four games. Against, the Lakers, Tyrus Thomas grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds to go along with his 15 points and three blocked shots. After going 10-for-10 in the second half of Wednesday night’s game against the Thunder, Derrick Rose went 10-for-19 against the Lakers.
Player to fear:AntawnJamison — who leads the league in total minutes played this season — has been on fire this month, averaging 24.7 PPG and 8.3 RPG while shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc. And with all the injuries Washington has suffered, you just know Antawn is going to get his shots.
Final thoughts: On paper, the Bulls are the better team. Unfortunately, they don’t get to play their games on paper. They’re Dr Jekyll at home and Mr Hyde on the road. All things being equal, there’s absolutely no reason they shouldn’t be able to beat the Wicked Worst of the East at home, on the road, and everywhere in between. And if they’re serious about making it to the playoffs, they need to do it.