It’s hard to remember many games going from huge matchups circled on the calendar to feeling rather trivial, yet that is the case for Chicago’s matinee with the Clippers today. It’s been nearly two years since Derrick Rose and Chris Paul squared off, which dates back to a New Year’s Eve clash in which Rose asserted his claim as the game’s top point guard. The defending MVP stole the show in Paul’s home debut as a Clipper, dropping 29 points on just 14 shots, along with 16 assists and 8 rebounds. In the wake of Rose’s torn medial meniscus however, the wait to see the consensus top point guards in each conference face off continues.
With the Bulls 0-2 thus far on their road trip, the high octane Clippers hardly seem like an ideal opponent for them to right the ship against, but in actuality, might represent an opportunity for Chicago’s anemic offense to find some success. Both Brooklyn and Memphis, two other presumed contenders who have struggled to score as of yet, have torched the Clips on their home floor recently, so if the Bulls are to make progress towards a healthy offense in a post-Rose reality, now is the time, especially with porous defenses in Utah and Detroit awaiting them in their next stops. Even though Rose hadn’t returned to pre-injury form, they’ll need to recalibrate their rotations and some of their offense (though as some of the players have said themselves, they are used to playing without Rose), as well as try to get Marquis Teague playing well enough to survive with him backing up Kirk Hinrich. Also, while Mike Dunleavy is an upgrade over Marco Belinelli, it’s unlikely he shoulders the minutes load Belinelli did at times last year, so as much as Tom Thibodeau resists playing rookies, Tony Snell seems likely to get an opportunity to soak up some minutes off the bench.
Historically, Paul and head coach Doc Rivers both run slow offenses, but in a basketball version of two negatives equaling a positive, the Clippers have really pushed the pace this year. It makes sense for them to run though, as they severely lack backup bigs and their supply of wings runneth over. This presents Chicago with a double-edged sword. On one hand, Taj Gibson should be able to continue his bounce-back season against lineups that feature either Ryan Hollins or Byron Mullens as a token center or ones devoid of a big man at all. On the other hand, the Clippers cache of perimeter shooting leaves the Bulls vulnerable to getting burned in transition and semi-transition as they did against Denver and Portland, and as good as Ty Lawson and Damian Lillard are, they aren’t capable of surgically demolishing defenses the way Paul is at the moment.
A full strength Bulls team would have their hands full with the task of corralling one of the league’s best offenses, let alone with their starting backcourt away from the team tending to serious injuries, but if they’ve shown anything under Thibodeau, it’s that they never back down from a challenge.
Starters: Kirk Hinrich, Mike Dunleavy, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah
Bench: Taj Gibson, Marquis Teague, Nazr Mohammed, Tony Snell
Out: Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler
Starters: Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
Bench: Jamal Crawford, Darren Collison, Reggie Bullock, Ryan Hollins and/or Byron Mullens
Out: Matt Barnes
-While ascribing win-loss records to players is devoid of any context, for what it’s worth, Derrick Rose is 5-0 lifetime against Chris Paul.
-The Bulls are playing their third game in four days while the Clippers are playing their fourth game in five days. NBA scheduling: it’s faaaaantastic!
-Although such a trade doesn’t make sense for either team, each will get a close look at the exact type of player who could fill a gaping roster hole. Gibson’s dependable defense and ability to hit free throws would give L.A. a nice replacement for DeAndre Jordan in closing out games, while Jamal Crawford would be able to fill Chicago’s glaring weakness of a ballhandling guard who can sustain bench units offensively, yet also play off-ball with the starters.