The Bulls return home tonight to face one of their bitterest rivals (?) for the first time this season. The Celtics, led by second year coach Brad Stevens, are 2-3 to start the young season, and have looked every bit the work in progress that they are. Unfortunately, they’re dealing with their own injury woes, as both Rajon Rondo and rookie Marcus Smart will miss tonight’s game, the former after getting a screw removed from the broken hand that was supposed to keep him out of action until December, the latter out until at least then with an ankle injury.
Speaking of ankle injuries, Derrick Rose is out again tonight with his dueling ankle sprains. He didn’t look right against Milwaukee, and it showed. Again, there’s not really any reason to play him until his ankles are in better shape, given how early it is in the season and how weak the Bulls’ schedule is. Instead, the focus tonight should, once again, be on Jimmy Butler’s sweltering start to the season. Along with Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson, Butler has led the Bulls to a 5-1 start, often without the services of either Rose or Joakim Noah, who played last night, but still doesn’t look right. There is still a lot to watch for, namely the play of Doug McDermott ,Nikola Mirotic, Tony Snell and Aaron Brooks. While the first three have been inconsistent, they’ve also been perhaps better early than most might have expected. Brooks has been anything but inconsistent, still shooting a blazing .588 from three pointer in 6 games thus far. Without Rose, he should again play serious minutes. Aside from that, there’s really not much else to say. The Celtics have a lot of marginal players who could, conceivably go off in the vein of Hollis Thompson or Tony Wroten last night, or they could shoot themselves out of contention by halftime. Yes, I’m talking about Jeff Green.
Chicago Bulls (5-1, 1st in Central, 2nd in East.)
C: Joakim Noah, 8th season. 6.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.3 blocks per game.
PF: Pau Gasol, 14th season. 18.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks per game.
SF: Mike Dunleavy, 13th season. 11.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists per game.
SG: Jimmy Butler, 4th season. 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.8 steals per game.
PG: Kirk Hinrich, 12th season. 11.3 points, 2.5 assists per game.
Boston Celtics (2-3, 3rd in Atlantic, 7th in East.)
C: Kelly Olynyk, 2nd season. 12.4 points, 6.6 rebounds per game.
PF: Jared Sullinger, 3rd season. 15.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists per game.
SF: Jeff Green, 7th season. 20.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists per game.
SG: Evan Turner, 5th season. 6.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists per game.
PG: Avery Bradley, 5th season. 16.0 points, 2.8 rebounds per game.
Key Matchup(s): Bulls frontcourt vs Jared Sullinger. After getting outrebounded AGAIN last night, the Bulls suddenly seem vulnerable in what was supposed to be their biggest strength. With Noah still visibly hobbled, Taj Gibson focusing more on closeouts and jumpers, and Pau Gasol’s weaknesses as a defensive rebounder, the Bulls have been getting overmatched on the boards this season. Jared Sullinger is one of the better offensive rebounders in this league, so slowing him down will go a long way towards victory tonight.