Bull Fight (The Wolves-Bulls Edition)

It is Nikola Pekovic's job - it's his vocation - to wipe smiles like Joakim Noah's from opposing centers' faces.

It is Nikola Pekovic’s job – it’s his vocation – to wipe smiles like Joakim Noah’s from opposing centers’ faces.

Following a disappointing loss in Portland on Saturday evening, the Wolves (21-22) continue their four-game road trip tonight in Chicago (22-21). Tip is at 7:00 P.M. CST. The game can be seen on NBATV and heard on WCCO 830.

Derrick Rose won’t be walking through that door. (Eds. Note: He might limp to that bench, I’m not sure. Key thing is, he isn’t playing tonight or for a long time.) Neither will Luol Deng, or even Kirk Hinrich.

But beating the Bulls tonight will require the Wolves  to play top-level basketball. The Wolves haven’t beaten the Bulls in a very long time. Last season, Chicago swept the season series against the Wolves for the fourth straight year. They’ve now won seven straight against Minnesota.

And despite being decimated by injuries, the Bulls are perhaps the NBA’s hottest team that no one really cares about.

The Bulls are tied for the League lead in January wins so far, going 10-3 in 2014. They’re 8-3 since trading  Luol Deng earlier this month in what appeared a clear towel-throwing move.

But the Bulls keep winning. Because Tom Thibodeau.

Remember when I said Derrick Rose, Lu Deng, and Kirk Hinrich won’t be walking through that door? That doesn’t  matter. Thibs keeps the engine running on overdrive no matter what lineup he can put on the floor.

A few things stand out for tonight’s game.

D.J. Augustin

Instead of Rose, Deng, or Hinrich, D.J. Augustin (!) will be waddling through that door tonight. And that might be even scarier in reality than as the visual you have in your imagination right now.

Augustin has only been a Bull for six weeks since Chicago grabbed him from the free agent scrap heap. But Augustin has stepped in and played the best ball of his NBA career. He has been especially hot as of late, putting up 20.4 points and shooting 51.6% over his last seven games.

Augustin is a crafty game-manager whose success comes primarily when he takes what the defense gives him. And on a Bulls team as disciplined and talented as this one still is despite its being gutted by injuries, he’d be ill-served to try to exceed his role. DON’T GET GREEDY, D.J.!

Here’s a sample of what Augustin can bring to the table.

Having Ricky Rubio defending him should give Augustin a bit harder time than he had in that Lakers clip, but given the way he has carried the Bulls offense lately, he shouldn’t be slept on.

The Bulls’ Suffocating Defense

If Augustin is the Bulls’ wildcard, team defense is their calling card. The Bulls are flat-out great at defense. That’s what Tom Thibodeau Teams do. Every. Single. Year.

This year is no different: The Bulls are currently allowing the second-fewest points scored, with opposing teams averaging 92.9 points per game. They also have the League’s second-best defensive rating, behind Indiana, at a stingy 98.0

Taj Gibson is one of the League’s most talented, rugged, and athletic defenders, and he isn’t even a starter. But if and when Thibodeau brings in Gibson to defend Kevin Love, Love won’t get as many open looks from deep as he does against your run-of-the-mill, one step slow, NBA power forward. Gibson will close quickly, and be quick and strong enough to recover and body Love if Love puts the ball on the floor after a close out. 

Joakim Noah is another high-energy pest who will likely spend much of his night harassing Nikola Pekovic on the block and contesting shots. What Noah gives up in strength, he makes up in length and tenacity. Noah blocks shots like a boss.

I’m looking forward to this matchup as much as any other Pek vs. [INSERT NAME OF YOUR FAVORITE CENTER HERE] matchup. The Bruise Brothers might both giveth and receiveth their share of bruises tonight.

A Glimpse of the Future?

As much of a downer as it is to contemplate, the Bulls are one of a few realistic trade partners in a Kevin Love deal if the Wolves decide to move Love due to his contract and upcoming free agency status.

So grab your prescription glasses, your TI-86, or you need to do eye tests and analysis of Bulls players. It isn’t impossible that a few of them could end up playing in a stadium near you.

***

That’s all for now. Here’s some D-Rose to pregame to.

Enjoy the tilt.

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8 Comments

Filed under Previews, Timberwolves, Uncategorized

8 responses to “Bull Fight (The Wolves-Bulls Edition)

  1. Jake

    I’ll be at my first twolves game in a long time tonight so I’m hoping for a fun game. Hopefully K-Target can keep his recent hot streak going.

    • Have fun at the game! I only got to one Bulls game at the United Center when I lived in Chicago, though I did attend the B10 tourney there. It’s a fantastic voyage just getting out to the West Side for a game – enjoy.

      Concur on K-Mart.

  2. Nathan Anderson

    I’ll also be at the game tonight. I live close by, so the weather should not be an issue.

    Go Wolves.

  3. Jeremy

    I hate talking about Love trades because it bums me out, but you are right about the Bulls having the assets to make it happen. They have two (mybe even three) 2014 first round picks, Butler, Gibson, and their Euro prospect in Mirotic. Those are assets that could make losing Love a little easier to swallow. Love and Noah would instantly be the best front court in the league and it would not be remotely close. Gibson is the kind of defensive big that would be ideal to pair with Pek, and Butler is the young 2-way wing that the Wolves have been needing for about a decade.

    Another team with a stupid amount of assets in Phoenix, who will in all likelihood have 4 first round picks this summer in a ridiculously loaded draft. Picks plus Dragic and a Morris twin could be enticing. The Bulls deal sounds better because the value depends less on hitting on draft picks, which is historically something the Wolves don’t like to do.

    On the Bulls and Thibs – I just love that team. I have crazy respect for their team defense. It doesn’t even matter who is in the game, they all by into the system and play their asses off no matter what. In that round 2 series with the Heat last year, they were competitive enough to win a game (and close to two more) without their three best players and Nate Robinson throwing up in a bucket during timeouts. Thibs is the bestest.

    Also, I have absolutely no explanation for DJ Augustin ballin harder than a Gucci Mane video this season. He was terrible last year, and it’s not like he was playing for a bad coach or scrub squad in Indiana. I suspect witchcraft.

    • I almost signed that post off by saying, “Hey, at least we’d be undoing Kahn’s Mirotic fuckup.” But I got trigger happy and published it before going there. But yeah, Gibson’s a stud defender who’d complement Pek, Mirotic has star written all over him, and Butler seems like a solid player who’ll have value for a while.

      There are all kinds of Phoenix trade ideas that I’m not quite ready to go into yet in detail, but yeah, stuff could get real real fast if the right deal was on the table.

      I love Thibs’ Bulls because their physical, grinding, defense reminds me of the 1990s NBA. Not many teams can pull that off in this day and age, which makes Thibs a real artist (which is saying a lot for a guy who looks and probably fancies himself more like a plumber or a construction worker, which just adds to the whole persona). Adelman’s an innovative offensive coach and I appreciate that. But my mind starts bending when I imagine how different our games would look if you swapped him for Thibodeau.

      You nailed the Augustin thing. This comes to mind when I think of Andray Blatche and Ricky Davis, not D.J.A:

      Maybe there’s more to the story than we know.

    • Co-sign on respect for Thibs and everything about the Bulls since he has been there.

      That win over the Heat was so awesome, even knowing that they had zero chance to win the series. (Still can’t believe the Nets lost to the Rose-less Bulls. Talk about polar opposites in the mental toughness dept.)

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