With just a quarter of the season left to be played, each game comes with an ever-heightening sense of importance.
For Chicago (34-27), that importance is in the chase for the third seed and avoidance of a Washington Wizards team that has played them well this season.
For Memphis (34-26), the importance regards their very participation in the playoffs in a crowded Western Conference.
The Grizzlies are currently in a playoff spot but with four teams within a couple of wins of each other, seeding changes on a nightly basis.
Looking to the game, the Bulls enter the game as the more consistent of the two teams with two four-game winning streaks in their recent past. Memphis, however, have mixed wins over quality teams in the Clippers and Wizards with losses to Brooklyn and Charlotte.
These two teams have followed very similar narratives this season, though to varying degrees of severity.
Memphis, like Chicago, lost it’s best player early in the season though Marc Gasol has returned. Both teams struggled in the early going, falling under .500. Both have since returned not just to a positive win-loss ratio but into the playoff hunt in their respective conferences.
The similarities do not stop there. Neither has stellar backcourt play and both boast strong frontcourts featuring great rebounders and one elite passing big man apiece.
Marc Gasol and Joakim Noah should have a great battle tonight in the match-up between the two men considered the best passing big men in the league.
Noah has certainly had the better season and is playing perhaps the most complete basketball of his career in the past seven days. Two triple-doubles in the last three games have seen his name vaulted into people’s discussions for top 15 and even top 10 players in terms of importance to their team or who you would pick for one fourth quarter performance.
There was speculation about a thumb injury Noah picked up that forced him to wear tape on his hand Wednesday night but he is expected to start having gone through shootaround this morning.
A win tonight would cap a run of eleven wins in thirteen games ahead of a tough schedule next few weeks that sees Miami, San Antonio, Houston and Oklahoma City visit the United Center before two games against Indiana end March.
Key match-up: Joakim Noah vs Marc Gasol
As mentioned, Noah vs Gasol is going to go a long way to determining the outcome of this game. If one can assert some form of dominance either in the form of Gasol’s great scoring touch or Noah’s ability to give the Bulls multiple looks on the same possession via his work on the offensive glass, they stand a better chance of winning.
PG: Kirk Hinrich, 11th season. 8.9 points per game, 4.1 assists per game.
SG: Jimmy Butler, 3rd season. 12.9 points per game, 5.0 rebounds per game.
SF: Mike Dunleavy, 12th season. 11.1 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game.
PF: Carlos Boozer, 12th season. 14.4 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game.
C: Joakim Noah, 7th season. 12.0 points per game, 11.4 rebounds per game.
PG: Mike Conley, 7th season. 17.3 points per game, 6.2 assists per game.
SG: Courtney Lee, 6th season. 10.0 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game.
SF: Tayshaun Prince, 12th season. 8.2 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game.
PF: Zach Randolph, 13th season. 17.3 points per game, 10.3 rebounds per game.
C: Marc Gasol, 6th season. 13.6 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game.