Game Preview: Celtics at Bulls

Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose

Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose will not face off tonight, as Rose continues to rehabilitate his surgically repaired left knee.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

BOSTON - A meeting between the Boston Celtics (3-3) and the Chicago Bulls (4-2) always makes for great television. We’ll all have an opportunity to be entertained by such a meeting when those two teams collide at 8 p.m. tonight in Chicago.

This will be the first meeting of the season between the two title contenders. It will take place without one of the biggest stars in the game, Derrick Rose. He is currently recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee.

Rose’s absence hasn’t prevented the Bulls from jumping out to a strong start this season. Chicago sits atop the Central Division standings and is coming off of an impressive 87-80 victory over Minnesota on Saturday. The Timberwolves had won four of their five games heading into that contest before the Bulls put the clamps on them and limited Minnesota to less than 39 percent shooting in the game.

Boston is coming off of a pretty impressive victory and defensive performance as well. The C’s played the Bucks on the road Saturday night in the second night of a back-to-back and came away with a 96-92 victory. Despite having the odds stacked against them, Boston limited Milwaukee to less than 40 percent shooting overall and 15.8 percent from downtown.

The Celtics fell behind by as many 10 points in the contest but battled back in the second half, spurring players and coaches to describe the triumph as “a hard win” after the team “grinded it out.” The win gave one player in particular a positive mindset as the C’s continue their quick two-game road trip.

“I told the guys, sometimes a road trip can bring you together,” said Paul Pierce after the victory. “In an early road trip like this, against two good quality teams who have been playing well, maybe this is just what the doctor ordered.”

It ended up being what the doctor ordered on Saturday night in Milwaukee, and now it’s time to find out if that momentum can be carried over to Chicago. This Bulls team may not have Rose in its active lineup, but under the leadership of Tom Thibodeau, it remains one of the best teams in the league.

Doc’s Lineup

Doc Rivers shocked everyone on Saturday by sending out a starting lineup of Rajon Rondo, Jason Terry, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett. That’s a pretty good lineup, but it’s one that hasn’t really been mentioned as a long-term starting unit.

Rivers had changed his thought process and moved in a different direction by the end of the contest. Rondo, Bass, Pierce, Garnett, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green split the majority of the minutes when the game was on the line in the final period. Rivers’ small lineups worked wonders and led the C’s to an important victory.

We’ve heard over and over that Rivers plans on using a bevy of starting lineups this season. We saw a new one Saturday night, and based on the conclusion of that game, we may see another one tonight, too.

Bulls’ Balance

How have the Bulls continued to win without the services of their former MVP point guard? Two words: defense and balance.

Chicago has always been known for its defense since Thibodeau took over as head coach in the 2010-11 season. We knew that wouldn’t change without Rose and that the offense would be the primary concern. However, the Bulls have been able to use a balanced offensive attack to help them remain on the right side of the scoreboard.

Luol Deng (17.7 PPG) is one of five Bulls who are scoring in double-figures this season. Four of those five players are shooting at least 45.7 percent from the field. Chicago may be scoring only 94.5 PPG this season, but it's clear that those five top players can keep the offense churning.

Jump Above .500

We’re six games into the season and the Celtics have yet to have their record sit above the .500 mark. They have, however, won three of their last four games and are in position tonight to move above that mark for the first time.

Moving above the .500 mark this early in the season may seem like an insignificant occurrence, but it could be a monumental step. Sports are just as much mental as they are physical. Having tangible evidence that the team is moving in the right direction could give a substantial mental boost to this Celtics team.