Tonight, the team with the league’s best record faces off against the Nets. The team with the league’s best record is at home. The team with the league’s best record has the 3rd-best offensive efficiency and 2nd-best defensive efficiency in the NBA. The team with the league’s best record also has the reigning MVP, battling injuries, but he expects to play tonight. Two other starters for the league’s best team in the NBA (Luol Deng and Joakim Noah) are questionable, and one major backup (Taj Gibson) is not expected to play.
Joining us to talk Nets-League’sBestRecordInTheNBA is Alex Sonty, lead blogger for SBNation’s Blog a Bull.
1. Can D-Will hold off an injured D-Rose?
- Sandy Dover: D-Will will be able to handle D-Rose, but I don’t know if that translates to a win. As far as individual match-ups go, I have Deron pushing Mr. MVP as much as possible on penetration, and I like what that might bring, but it’s hard to know just what Derrick will do tonight. He could end up going off. Either way, I have Deron as the favored PG tonight.
- Devin Kharpertian: Probably not. Deron’s not the best man defender, and as far as quickness goes, there’s no one in the league that competes with Derrick Rose. The Nets did a good job last year of leading Rose into the bigs, causing him to miss close shots. With his jumper looking improved this year, though, it’s hard to imagine that even a 60% Rose doesn’t give the Nets fits.
- Alex Sonty, Blog A Bull: Unless he’s limping, there isn’t a point guard who can “hold off” Rose. Ask Darren Collison after the Pacers got knocked out of the playoffs last year. Rose demands team defense. Kris Humphries is good enough to show and attack if he knows how to time it; Mehmet Okur is the disaster. Rose never has problems navigating through Williams, and he likes to pick certain bigs to attack. The Nets’ problem is helping and recovering when Rose baits them in and kicks it to the outside or underneath to the baseline. The better the Nets help, the more difficult their recovery. Then, it really is up to Williams, and — again — that usually doesn’t work so well.
2. Tonight’s X-Factor is…
- Sandy Dover: The Bulls’ bigs. If Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah can protect the paint defensively, and generate paint points on the offensive end, that spells the Nets’ doom. However, if they or even if Taj Gibson has any trouble keeping the Nets from being moderately productive near the basket, New Jersey can do something special.
- Devin Kharpertian: MarShon Miracles. MarShon Brooks has done it all against weak teams and a well-aged Boston defense. This is his first true test against a no-doubt top-shelf defense, and teams have seen enough of him now to devise strategies to stop him. If he struggles tonight — as I expect him to — the Nets don’t stand a chance. If he’s great, well, they’ll still probably lose, but the door is at least open.
- Alex Sonty: Second chance points. Neither team should really shoot a high percentage tonight. The Bulls take a hockey mindset in the worst case scenario — just get the ball to the net and good things will happen. The Nets really can’t compete with that level of aggressiveness, even with Taj Gibson out. I’d be surprised if either team shot 45% and it wouldn’t shock me at all if both were around or under 40%. Joakim Noah’s tip-ins and help defense forcing bad shots, Omer Asik gathering those boards and going up strong to finish, and Carlos Boozer establishing perfect position to prevent New Jersey from second chances are going to win or lose this for the Bulls.
3. And the winner is…
- Sandy Dover: Chicago. Sadly, I can’t say the Nets will be a favored player, because Chicago has been kicking butt even without their MVP. The Bulls bench is crucially successful, and that’s something the Nets lack. Even if New Jersey’s starting five played above expectations, they’d have to contend with a great, cohesive bunch off of the Bulls’ bench, and a few other teams have seen what they can do.
- Devin Kharpertian:Chicago. It’s hard to see another outcome, even with an injury-riddled starting lineup. The Bulls are one of the best-coached teams in the league, and even if their starters sit tonight, the Nets have a massive uphill battle. They don’t match up well on either side of the floor, and playing on the road in Chicago doesn’t normally end well for underdeveloped rosters.
- Alex Sonty: The Bulls and it really shouldn’t be close. The Nets aren’t the Bobcats and the Bulls’ D was shaky on the tail-end of a back-to-back Saturday, but the Nets also aren’t the 9-6 Grizzlies, who beat the beat-up Bulls. The depth is at the point where too many bad things need to simultaneously for losses to happen. Sure the Bulls are smaller without Taj, but I’ll take a slightly smaller yet still big Bulls over a Brook-less Nets in a game of 50-50 balls flying around the court and above the rim.