The Chicago Bulls will take on the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Apr. 13–a game with potential playoff implications for both teams.
With a come-from-behind win over the Detroit Pistons on April 11, the Bulls took sole possession of third place in the Eastern Conference playoff race, while the Knicks were eliminated Saturday night when the Atlanta Hawks beat the Miami Heat.
Chicago has won nine of its last 10 contests, including a seven-game winning streak, while New York has a 5-5 record over the same stretch of games.
The Bulls have dominated the series recently–taking 10 of the previous 12 games from the Knicks, including a 109-90 win the last time these teams squared off on March 2.
On paper, the Bulls are the favorites to win this game, but anything can happen in sports.
That being said, here are three things to watch for from the Bulls perspective.
In the last two outings, the Bulls were outplayed in the first half by the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Pistons.
Fortunately, they were able to turn up the defensive intensity in the second halves of those games–outscoring their opponents 54-34 and 68-42 respectively.
With the Knicks possibly still in playoff contention, they will be playing like a desperate team.
And if Chicago comes out of the gate slow once again, they will see their winning streak come to an abrupt halt.
Blanket Carmelo Anthony
It is no secret that Anthony (27.6 ppg) is one of the most prolific scorers in the league–a player with the ability to punish an opponent from multiple spots on the floor.
But if there is any team that can make the Knicks star work for his points, it is the Bulls.
Chicago is first in the league in scoring defense–allowing just 91.7 points per outing.
This includes an 89.6 points per game average over the course of their current seven-game winning streak.
As Ian Begley of ESPN New York reports, Anthony had to this to say when he was asked about Chicago’s success this season under Tom Thibodeau:
You put anybody in that system and it’s going to work. And that’s what they’ve been doing. They had guys who have been sitting out all season long, guys [have] been in and out the lineup, and they seem to get it done.
In other words, if the Bulls can keep Anthony in check, they improve their chances of winning this game.
One of the biggest reasons why Chicago is playoff-bound is the play of Noah and Augustin.
Noah is having the best season of his career with averages of 12.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and a team-leading 5.3 assists per contest.
In addition to that, Noah has recorded four triple doubles this season, including a 13-point, 14-assist, 12-rebound effort in the last meeting between these clubs.
Meanwhile, Augustin is filling in admirably for Derrick Rose with 14.9 points per game, and he is averaging more than 21 points in the five games Chicago has played this month.
If you still are not convinced of Augustin’s value to the team, here is a another statistic to take into consideration.
Chicago is 19-3 overall and 11-1 on the road when Augustin scores at least 18 points, per ESPN Stats LLC.
Based on these numbers, it is easy to understand why Thibodeau recently said that Augustin has saved the Bulls season, per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.
If both players have solid outings against the Knicks, the Bulls will be one step closer to locking up the third spot.
In a battle between two teams that allow less than 100 points per contest, this promises to be a grind-it-out, low-scoring affair.
Although the Bulls are last in the league in scoring at 93.6 points per game, they have shown the ability turn up the heat defensively when it matters the most.
With that being said, the Bulls will come out on top in a close one 95-92.
James Tillman is a Staff Writer for HoopsHabit.com and a sports contributor for Football Nation and Sports Kings/Pass The Pill. James is also a former Featured Sports Contributor for Yahoo! Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JTILLMAN9693.
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