8:00 PM EST, TNT – Line: Knicks -3, Over/Under: 203
A pair of teams on the outside looking in on the fringes of perpetually mediocre Eastern Conference clash tonight at the world’s most famous arena, as the New York Knicks host the Chicago Bulls from Madison Square Garden. After a modestly impressive start, the Bulls (19-20, 9th in Eastern Conference) have struggled mightily over the last month and change, losers of fourteen of their last twenty-three outings, dropping them out what would be the Eight Seed (though it’s far too early to even discuss the Playoffs). With that said, now in his second year on the job, Fred Hoiberg will no doubt start to feel the pressure in getting this celebrated franchise back into the Postseason, particularly after missing out for the first time in eleven years. In an attempt to get back to that level, Management went out and acquired the likes of Dwyane Wade (18.7 PTS, 42.9% FG, 4.1 REB, 3.9 AST, 1.4 STL) and Rajon Rondo (7.4 PTS, 37.4% FG, 6.4 REB, 7.1 AST, 1.4 STL), a pair of perennial (if not aging) All Stars to pair with their young nucleus spearheaded by Jimmy Butler (25.0 PTS, 45.0% FG, 34.1% 3FG, 6.7 REB, 4.6 AST, 1.7 STL). With years of methodical, defensive-oriented basketball now in the rear-view mirror, Hoiberg has gradually turned this roster over to better suit his more free-flowing offensive scheme, though given the veteran additions made during the Offseason one is left to wonder if they’re actually better off playing they way had under the previous regime. Simply put, even in this offensive era of basketball, Chicago is far from prolific or efficient on this particular end of the court; Hoiberg’s charges have averaged just 101.5 points (19th Overall) on 43.3% shooting from the field (28th Overall), including a poor 31.8% from beyond the arc (30th Overall) and an almost equally miserable 46.9% from within it (29th Overall), while dishing out 21.0 assists (23rd Overall). Furthermore, due to their ineptness from downtown, the rank dead-last in the NBA in Effective Field Goal Percentage (47.1%), which places an added emphasis on the money ball. Basically, they don’t shoot the ball well, and have to work very hard just to get easy shots, whether they’re of the second-chance variety (29.7% Offensive Rebound Percentage, 1st Overall) or from the Free-Throw Line (19.7 Free-Throws per Game, 5th Overall). Of course, it doesn’t help that neither Wade nor Rondo are anything remotely close to effective shooters from the perimeter, which really clogs the driving lanes where these guys can still create so many opportunities. Last night’s narrow 101-99 loss to the Wizards was a perfect example of their struggles; the visiting Bulls wasted a 36-26 lead after the first stanza of action, shooting a dreadful 39.8% from the field, while dishing out nineteen assists compared to committing seventeen turnovers. Granted, the visitors were without the services of both Wade and Butler (who sat out with an illness), but despite six players scoring in double-figures, could coax much of anything out of a makeshift Starting Five featuring the likes of Michael Carter-Williams (4-of-12, 33.3%) and Doug McDermott (2-of-11, 18.2%). Compounding matters, Chicago couldn’t take advantage of their opponents sloppy tendencies, ultimately proving unable of capitalizing on Washington’s twenty-one turnovers. Apart from that, it hardly seemed they were very interested in doing much on the defensive end, permitting the home side to shoot a solid 50.6% from the floor, including 11-of-22 from three (50.0%). Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Hoiberg and Co. will be playing with a full deck tonight, for there is a great possibility that Butler will miss yet another game recovering from said illness, while court-stretching Power Forward Nikola Mirotic (9.5 PTS, 38.7% FG, 31.2% 3FG, 55 REB, 0.8 AST, 0.8 STL), who also sat out the Wizards’ loss with the flu, could also be sidelined once more.
Meanwhile, as difficult as it’s been for the Bulls, they could always be the Knicks (17-22, 11th in Eastern Conference), who as the season progresses appear to be falling further and further into familiar tropes. Losers of nine out of their last ten outings, it’s becoming abundantly clear that this particular experiment isn’t netting the desired results. Seriously, we can’t help but feel for Jeff Hornacek, for there may not be a coach out there that could make this dysfunctional machine operate; the additions of Derrick Rose (17.5 PTS, 45.0% FG, 3.9 REB, 4.4 AST, 0.7 STL) and Joakim Noah (5.5 PTS, 50.3% FG, 8.6 REB, 2.3 AST, 0.8 BLK) were initially met with much skepticism, harkening back to a time that was definitely NOT fondly remembered by the fan base in which Management continued to pile the roster up with expensive veterans that were clearly past their prime. Needless to say, neither player has particularly endeared himself to the franchise. In Noah’s case, the longtime defensive stalwart of Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau Era has been largely invisible; despite being just thirty-one years of age, Noah has apparently aged exponentially, resembling a shell of his former self, logging just 22.7 minutes a night, while posting an average PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 15.5. In laymen’s terms he went from being an All-Star Center to being simply another guy (with a hefty salary). And then there’s Rose, who every two or three nights manages to exhibit the explosive athleticism that led to his MVP campaign in 2010-2011, otherwise looks like the handicapped Point Guard who has had a litany of knee surgeries over the past four years. Physical failings aside, a plethora of off-court drama has mired his stay in the Big Apple, giving the rabid New York Media plenty to write about; first there was his prolonged Sexual Assault Case that dominated headlines during the Summer, only to be followed by his bizarre disappearance this week, in which he missed New York’s meeting with New Orleans WITHOUT notifying the team of his whereabouts, becoming a fixture in the Sports News Cycle for all the wrong reasons. Basically, these ex-Bulls stars have NOT been able to make much of a positive impact with the Knicks, and to compound matters, it’s begun to seriously effect the development of the few young assets they possess Last night’s narrow 98-97 loss at Philadelphia was one of those rare nights in which Rose found the proverbial Fountain of Youth, scoring twenty-five points on a solid 11-of-16 shooting from the field (68.8%), along with a pair of rebounds, four assists, and a steal, while Carmelo Anthony (22.1 PTS, 42.2% FG, 35.1% 3FG, 6.0 REB, 3.1 AST) added a team-high twenty-eight points on 11-of-25 shooting (44.0%), including 2-of-6 from three (33.3%), along with an assist, two rebounds, and three blocks. As a team, New York struggled greatly from beyond the arc (4-of-22, 18.2%), though shot a healthy 48.8% overall from the field. With that said, they still managed to throw the game away, as the 76ers pummeled the visiting side on the glass, outrebounding them 47-41, securing a ridiculous eighteen Offensive Rebounds, which had a heavy hand in getting them to the Charity Stripe where they calmly netted 17-of-21 Free-Throws (81.0%), eight more than New York. Hornacek’s charges still had an opportunity to put the game away, but failed to capitalize as second-year star Forward Kristaps Porzingis’ (19.4 PTS, 44.9% FG, 40.2% 3FG, 7.4 REB, 1.4 AST, 2.0 BLK) air-balled a long jumper, which eventually led to a T.J. McConnell game-winner on the opposite end of the court. Porzingis struggled all night, totaling just seven points on 3-of-10 shooting (30.0%), including a miserable 1-of-6 from downtown (16.7%), while adding three rebounds, a pair of assists, and a steal and block apiece. That smell lingering in the air is a rotten apple, folks, which unfortunately has become far too familiar an aroma over the past fifteen years in the City That Never Sleeps.