Hawks-Bulls Preview

Atlanta Hawks Status Check:
Record: 21-15
Division: 8-3
Conference: 13-8
Road Record: 9-9
Last 10 Games: 4-6
Streak: Lost 1
Last game: 93-83 loss to Washington
PPG: 96.5 (16th)
Opponents PPG: 95.5 (6th)
Offensive Rating: 104.3 (17th)
Defensive Rating: 103.2 (7th)
Pace: 91.5 (16th)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .511 (7th)
Turnover Percentage: .141 (23rd)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: .731 (17th)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: .232 (26th)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: .165 (28th)
Opp. eFG%: .490 (14th)
Opp. TO%: .146 (7th)
Opp. FT/FGA: .177 (2nd)
Leading scorer: Josh Smith (16.7)

Stats from Basketball-Reference

Atlanta Injury Report:
Anthony Morrow: questionable (strained hip/sore back)

Last year, even if the Bulls weren’t playing well in a particular game, you still felt like that had a good chance to win. Whether that was through effort, hustle or sheer will, they always seemed to be in the game. But that isn’t the case this year. Right from the start, they didn’t have it going against the Suns, and they never looked right. Last season, I think they would have fought, kept it close, and even if they did lose—which they rarely did at home—they would have gone down scratching and clawing. And this was even in the games they were missing Derrick Rose.

That clearly didn’t happen last time out against Phoenix. And I’m not saying that they Bulls didn’t try or give the same effort they did last year, because I don’t think that’s the problem. But they had something last year that is definitely missing from this year’s team. Maybe it was the always reliable bench, which could fill in for the starters. Maybe it was just having Rose around for most of the games, knowing he could single-handedly carry them on offense.

I don’t think it’s as simple as talent, because there were numerous times, when the Bulls were dealing with injuries last year, in which they won games when they were out-matched. Everybody has bad games, I get that, but these are so bad, so ugly, that it seems something has to be wrong. The Suns had lost 12 in a row on the road and the Bulls got blown out. The Bobcats had lost 18 straight overall.

I’m not sure what it is, and neither are the Bulls. “We’re going on the road and beating some of the best teams, then coming home against lower-echelon teams and not competing,” Joakim Noah said. “If we all knew what the problem was, we’d do something about it.”

Tom Thibodeau seems to think he pinpointed it though. “We have to play with more intensity, more of an edge,” Thibs said. “We are not doing that. We have to correct it.”

Whatever it may be, the Bulls need to figure it out or find what they are missing, because these home losses—many of which are to subpar teams—aren’t acceptable and aren’t going to give the Bulls much of a shot in the playoffs…if they make it there.

Chicago has looked good against the better teams they have played lately, with wins over the Heat and Knicks. But both of those victories were on the road, where the Bulls are 10-5. Tonight they take on the Hawks in the United Center, an arena Chicago has stumbled to a 10-10 record in. That .500 home record is tied for sixth worse in the NBA. Behind teams like Phoenix, Toronto and Minnesota and tied with Sacramento and Detroit.

Atlanta is slumping right now, going 1-5 over their last six games. The Hawks are just 9-9 on the road this year, and are coming off of a double-digit loss at Washington. Jeff Teague’s 19 points and Al Horford’s double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds) weren’t enough to overcome the Hawks’ poor shooting and the big rebounding margin. Atlanta shot 38.5 percent from the field and was out-rebounded 51-38, including 12-6 on the offensive glass.

Josh Smith and company are just 4-6 over their last ten, very similar to the Bulls’ 5-5 record. Atlanta has lost to some bad teams as well, falling to Detroit, Minnesota, Cleveland and its most recent loss in Washington.

The Bulls got blown out the first time these squads met in December. Chicago didn’t score more than 21 in a quarter, Luol Deng was the Bulls’ high-scorer with eleven points and they were out-rebounded by 14. On the other side of it, Horford went 9-12 for 20 points and ten rebounds and Atlanta’s starters shot 53.5 percent from the field.

It’s weakness against weakness in this one apparently, as the Bulls have lost two straight at home, and Atlanta is coming into the United Center with four straight road losses. If there is one thing Chicago likes to do at home, other than take a nice bath with candles lit, it’s end other teams’ streaks. The Suns had fallen 12 straight times on the road, the Bobcats had lost 18 straight overall and now Atlanta could end its much shorter four-game road skid.  But the Bulls also like to play up to its opponents, as they have showed against New York (three times) and Miami. Something is going to snap. I just hope it’s not Nate Robinson’s spine on Tom Thibdeau’s knee.

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