Pregame Open Thread: Chicago Bulls @ New Jersey Nets

Want to watch March Madness tonight, but worried that you may miss the story from the Nets game tonight? Have no fear, Nets are Scorching is here! Tonight, Derrick Rose & the rest of the Chicago Bulls come to town to take on Deron Williams & the rest of the New Jersey Nets. Damion James, who’s been out with concussion symptoms, should be in uniform tonight, although it’s unclear how much he’ll play. The Bulls are expected to be without Carlos Boozer (left ankle), but Joakim Noah (flu-like symptoms) should be available. The Nets are now 16-16 at home with this five-game winning streak, while the Bulls are 18-14 on the road. Now, the Bulls are a great team – arguably the best in the East – and I’m not expecting a victory. If the Nets do win, though…

This should be a pretty exciting game to watch for obvious reasons, including the first of our keys to the game:

D-Will and D-Rose square off. This is a “duh.” Arguably the two best point guards in the NBA, the 22-year-old Rose has become the media darling in the MVP race, leading the Bulls to a 48-18 record with averages of 25 points and 8 assists per game. Deron, on the other hand, has energized a dormant franchise, averaging 16 points and 14 assists in his short time in New Jersey. These two will be going at it all game long – and it’ll be a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

Attack the (few and far between) weak spots on defense. Although the narrative is that Rose has carried a great team offensively (and that’s partially true), Chicago is really this good because of their defense. By any metric – defensive rating on Basketball-Reference, defensive rating on HoopData, Points Per Possession on Synergy – Chicago is the unquestioned best defensive team in the NBA. According to Synergy, they’re #1 in isolation, #2 at defending the pick & roll ballhandler, #2 at defending the roll man, #2 at defending spot-ups, #3 at defending cuts, #4 at defending off-ball screens, and #5 at defending offensive rebounds. Needless to say, they’re pretty good. However, they’ve proven to be weak in two areas: defending the transition game (#18 in the NBA), and defending handoffs (#21). If the Nets can get out and run, and wreak havoc with the handoff play (one of David Thorpe’s favorites), they should be able to maximize their offensive output.

Force the Bulls to go to their bigs. The Bulls, unsurprisingly, are strong offensively in areas that require shot creation on the wings – in isolation and pick & roll ballhandling. However, their weakest offensive areas are the opposite – the roll man in the pick & roll, post-ups, and spot-ups. With Carlos Boozer out, those first two get even worse. If the Nets can cut off Derrick Rose on the pick-and-roll and force Luol Deng into limiting his shots, they’ve got a real shot at extending this winning streak to six.

For more news & analysis on the Chicago Bulls, check out TrueHoop sister site By The Horns.