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.
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.