This Wednesday edition of “Fo’ with the Foes” — Philadunkia’s advanced scouting series which with the help of an accomplished journalist from around the NBA beat or blog world, previews upcoming 76ers opponents — features tonight’s opponent one of the hottest teams in the NBA, the Chicago Bulls.
This is going to be an interesting game to watch tonight as it’s a match up of teams going in completely opposite directions. On one hand, the Bulls are absolutely rolling right now (more on that later) and head coach Vinny Del Negro has had a large part in getting this team turned around after a horrible start to 2009-10. Mean while, Philadunkia’s home team started off shaky and has steadily regressed to the point where they absolutely stunk up the joint in three of their last four games. Additionally from the body language and facial expressions we have seen the players displaying lately, head coach Eddie Jordan has lost this squad.
From an X&Os standpoint, we think the Sixers are in a lot of trouble tonight. First, the Bulls feature All-Star Derrick Rose, one of the best scoring point men in the League. Since we know that starting Sixers point guard JrueHoliday (a defensive standout) will only see about fifteen minutes of action thanks to Jordan’s unexplainable lineup rotations, Rose will spend most of the night blowing by Louis Williams or Willie Green. The Bulls also shoot the 3-ball decently (35.2% — 14thin the NBA) so that won’t help the Sixers perimeter defensive woes either. Chicago is no slouch on the interior as well. Loul Deng, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Brad Miller can all score and hit the glass. Finally, the Bulls are young, athletic and can push the rock for easy fast break buckets.
The Bulls have also turned it up a notch at the other end of the floor and become a very, very solid defensive club. They’re second in the NBA in opponent’s FG percentage (43.6%) and rank among the Top 10 in the NBA in a host of other defensive stats (More on that later). That’s not good news for a Sixers team that has frequently struggled to put the ball in the bucket this season and it’s especially bad news for a Sixers team that tonight will be missing one of its more consistent scoring threats in Allen Iverson. One of Iverson’s children is ill and the Sixers have given Allen permission to skip the game in order to be with his family.
Honestly after their uninspiring performance against the Nets on Sunday night, we’re hard pressed to find a way the Sixers can win this game. Their only chance comes with the idea that the Bulls could be exhausted. Chicago wrapped up a 7-game road trip on Friday night, played at home last night and then flew from Chicago to Philadelphia for tonight’s game. The Sixers have been off for two days and except for a bus ride to the Meadowlands on Sunday, they have been home since January 28th. So there is a slight chance that a rested Philly squad could use its fresh legs to steal a W from the weary Bulls tonight.
For a little more insight into the Bulls team the Sixers face tonight, we turn to our man Matt McHale from bullsbythehorns.com to answer two questions on DAAA Bulls from us here at Philadunkia as well as provide us with two points of analysis on this Chicago squad from an insider’s perspective.
Realistically speaking, the Bulls were bound to struggle. In fact, this is what I wrote back in August: “The schedule is front-loaded with a lot of road games, particularly in November and January. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team was struggling to stay above .500 come February. As always seems to be the case with the Bulls, the first half of the season is going to be a record killer and they might have to spend the second half playing catchup.”
Then I wrote this in October: “But a slow, if not downright awful start is almost a sure thing. Which means before the All-Star break everybody will be wondering what’s wrong with the Bulls and talking about how much of a disappointment they are. People will question the talent and desire of the existing players, lament the exit of Ben Gordon and cry for a blockbuster trade for someone like Carlos Boozer or Chris Bosh. After the All-Star break the big story will be the team’s ‘resurgence’ and amazing ‘comeback’ in the playoff race.”
So the Bulls are slightly ahead of my original projection, but that’s pretty much what happened, right?
Keep in mind that one of the problems with the Bulls is expectations. When they’re bad, as they were earlier this season, they’re never quite as bad as people think. And when they’re good, as they were against Boston in the playoffs last season and in their history-making road trip — did you know they became the first team to ever win five straight road games against winning teams on a single road trip? — they aren’t as good as people think.
Philadunkia : Earlier this season when the Bulls were struggling many people were calling for Vinny Del Negro’s job, but the organization stood by Del Negro. What if any role do you think keeping Del Negro played in getting this season turned around for the Bulls?
Matt McHale @ bullsbythehorns.com : First off, I’m not sure I agree the organization “stood by” Vinny. There were no grand proclamations of “Vinny’s our coach” from management. They basically stood pat because there immediate better option. If there had been a successful, well-liked veteran coach waiting in the wings, Del Negro probably would be collecting unemployment right now.
But, as Charles Barkley pointed out, Vinny certainly deserves some credit for Chicago’s recent success. He’s had to make some tough choices, like continuing to start rookie Taj Gibson in front of Tyrus Thomas during a season in which management desperately wanted to find out what they had in Thomas. He also benched John Salmons and is now starting Kirk Hinrich alongside Derrick Rose. That move improved the offense because the starting lineup now has two legitimate playmakers in the backcourt. It also improved the defense because Hinrich is now taking the best opposing guard, be he PG or SG. Take the Bulls’ recent win in Phoenix. Kirk shut down Steve Nash, which left Derrick Rose free to rain fire on the Suns (32 points on 15-for-21 shooting).
Furthermore, Vinny has transformed the Bulls from a bad-to-mediocre defensive squad last season to an elite defensive unit this season. The Bulls currently rank 1st in Blocks Per Game (6.5), 2nd in Opponents Field Goal Percentage (.436), 4th in Opponents At-The-Rim Field Goal Percentage (.564), 7th in Opponents Turnovers (13.5), 7th in Defensive Efficiency and 8th in Opponents Three-point Percentage (.341). Vinny preached defense all summer…and now it looks like he really meant it.
Two Points of Analysis from Matt McHale @ bullsbythehorns.com : 1) The Bulls were and are a lower-level playoff team. That won’t change (for the better) until they can bring in another All-Star-caliber player to team up with Derrick Rose. 2) The Bulls made NBA history by taking five straight against winning teams on their recent road trip. Not even the great Chicago teams from the Michael Jordan era ever accomplished that feat. If Vinny was the bumbling, incompetent boob some people have made him out to be, that never could have happened.