Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE
Just when the Nuggets were getting comfortable playing at home, a four-game road trip is right around the corner. But with the competitive Bulls coming to Denver first, the Nuggets shouldn't get too comfortable.
|2012/2013 NBA Regular Season: Game 50|
|February 7, 2013 - 8:30 PM (MT)|
|Pepsi Center - Denver, Colorado
|TV TNT / 950 AM / 104.3 FM The Fan|
Blog A Bull
|Derrick Rose (out) and Kirk Hinrich (out), Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer (game-time decisions)||Injuries||None|
|The Nuggets have won five straight and 11 of their last 12 games against the Bulls at Pepsi Center.||Stat||The Nuggets are riding a season-high seven-game winning streak.|
Ravaged by injuries - notably to former NBA MVP point guard Derrick Rose (for much of the season) and recently to All-Star center Joakim Noah and near All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer - the Bulls remain in contention in the Eastern Conference. Not for a playoff spot, mind you, but for the #1 seed in the conference. Most pre-season NBA prognosticators had the Bulls (at best) eking into the playoffs.
But contending for the top spot?
This is a credit to what an amazing coach Tom Thibodeau has been in Chicago, despite last season's playoff upset when his one-seeded Bulls lost to the eighth-seeded 76ers after Rose went down with a crippling ACL injury early in their playoff series. The Bulls near ascension to the East's top spot this season is also indicative of how pathetic the Leastern Conference remains in comparison to the Western Conference. Our Nuggets - standing proudly at 31-18 and en route to 52ish wins - may not even get home court advantage in the playoffs' first round and yet the Bulls, sitting at 29-19, could finish first.
But despite trotting out a lineup that will feature the 6'9" Taj Gibson at center and the 5'9" journeyman Nate Robinson at point guard, the Bulls remain a team that can beat any opponent on any given night. Surprisingly, their 14-8 road record is better than their 15-11 home record. Not surprisingly (given that Thibodeau was the defensive guru of the Celtics during their championship run in 2008), the Bulls are winning games thanks to their stingy defense, with which they're holding opponents to a league third-best 91.0 ppg.
So while the Bulls may not be fun to watch, they are to be commended for winning games at a 60% clip. And our Nuggets - winners of a season high seven-straight - are to be commended, as well.
For the record, I still don't think our Nuggets are playing anywhere near as well as they can and I'm frankly (pleasantly) shocked that they're 31-18. As my friend Doug Ottewill of Mile High Sports aptly put it in his Wednesday column, "the Nuggets are consistently inconsistent". But they're winning and that's all that matters ... right?
Regardless of how they're playing - at too many times poorly, as Nuggets head coach George Karl would tell you - the Nuggets are delivering Ws by the time the fourth quarter comes to a close. But the Bulls aren't a squad to play inconsistently against. The Bulls - especially if Noah returns as anticipated - will make the Nuggets earn every basket the hard way.
Will the Nuggets be up to the task and bring home an eighth-straight win before hitting the road for a four-game, pre-All-Star break?
Three things to look for in this game ...
1) Rebounding - The Nuggets and Bulls are among the top-seven teams in the NBA in total rebounds per game. Without Noah and Boozer, the Bulls will certainly be at a disadvantage in this category. Should Noah and Boozer both not play, the Nuggets should be able to handily best the Bulls on the boards.
2) Containing Nate Robinson - In the absence of Rose and Hinrich, the diminutive Robinson seems to have been given the green light to shoot whatever and whenever he wants. Often attempting more than five or six three-pointers in a game, Robinson could potentially take advantage of one of the Nuggets biggest weaknesses - defending the three ball.
3) Ty Lawson's "goodness" continued - The Nuggets starting point guard hasn't had a bad game since January 20th against the Thunder (which the Nuggets surprisingly won). Dare we ask that Lawson has seven straight good games?
Scouting the Bulls ...
-Taj Gibson: The undersized Gibson has filled in admirably for the injured Noah. On the road against the Hawks the other night, Gibson posted a 19 points, 19 rebounds, three blocks game that led the Bulls to an impressive road victory.
-Joakim Noah: Before hurting his foot, the All-Star-to-be Noah has been the heart and soul of the Bulls resurgence. A lot of fans get annoyed by Noah, but I'd want him anchoring my team's center position in a heartbeat.
-Luol Deng: The Bulls starting small forward will be appearing in a second-straight All-Star Game for a reason - he's delivering wins in the absence of Rose thanks to his scoring and all around positive play. See, a Duke player can be a successful NBA player after all!
-Nate Robinson: Robinson will forever be a Stiff to Nuggets fans for, while playing for the Knicks, inciting the December 2006 brawl that led to massive suspensions for Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith and essentially sunk the Nuggets season.
The Bulls are tough for sure, but there's no excuse for the Nuggets to not win this game. With or without Noah on the Bulls roster. The Nuggets have a golden opportunity to win their eighth straight and do so on national television, no less. And what a great way to kick off a looming four-game road trip!