Game Preview: Celtics at Bulls

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BOSTON – Two teams looking to return to the win column will meet at 8 p.m. tonight in Chicago. The Boston Celtics (12-11) and the Chicago Bulls (13-10), set to face off for the second time this season, are each coming off of losses on the road.

Boston suffered consecutive losses this past weekend at the hands of two Texas teams. Houston and San Antonio each notched double-digit home victories over Boston as the C’s failed to break the 90-point barrier in both of those contests.

Offense surely was an issue in those games, but the Celtics are much more concerned with their defense. They gave up at least 100 points to Houston and San Antonio on consecutive nights. Boston could not shut down those teams’ top shooters and its half-court and transition defense was subpar.

“The last two teams we have played really shoot the ball well with their perimeter shooters. It was definitely a challenge for our defense,” Pierce said Saturday night. “We just have to do a better job at our rotations.”

Defense and rotations aren’t problems for the Bulls. Chicago ranks second in the league this season in both opponent scoring (90.4 PPG) and opponent field goal percentage (42.4 percent). Defense is the only reason why Chicago is still sitting at 13-10 and atop the Central Division despite playing without former MVP Derrick Rose.

Rose’s absence has resulted in an anemic Bulls offense. Their inability to score the basketball was on full display in last night’s loss to the Grizzlies in Memphis, as they scored just 71 points on 37.3 percent shooting. That offensive performance was ugly, but it was not a rarity for this Chicago team.

KG

Kevin Garnett scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds against the Bulls on Nov. 12 despite playing less than 29 minutes.
Jonathan Daniel/NBAE/Getty Images

The Bulls have been one of the worst offensive teams in the league all season long. They average less than 93 points a night and have scored just 86.4 points per game over their last five contests. Chicago hasn’t scored in triple-digits since Dec. 7 and has done so just four times in 23 games. Boston limited the Bulls to 95 points on 45.9 percent shooting during a 101-95 victory on Nov. 12 in the United Center.

While offense might be an issue in Chicago, Tom Thibodeau couldn’t care less. He and his team have proven all season long that they can and will win games with their defense. Doc Rivers and the Celtics, meanwhile, are searching to prove that they can do the same. Defense cost Boston its past two games, and it would love to change that trend tonight.

Keep Them Off the Line

The one and only reason Chicago was able to hang around with Boston back in November was the free-throw line. More than 25 percent of the 95 points Chicago scored in that game were scored at the charity stripe. The Bulls shot 24-of-31 from the line in the game.

Those numbers usually occur as a result of one player getting to the line consistently, but that was not the case in that contest. No Bulls player attempted more than five free throws, but six attempted at least four. The C’s will need to play smart defense tonight in order to limit Chicago’s freebies.

A Dominant Rondo

Many Celtics onlookers believe that Rajon Rondo plays his best when he takes on the league’s best point guards and the lights are shining bright. That is true in many cases, but Rondo was dominant against the Bulls earlier this season when he was playing against backup point guards and there were no bright lights shining on the game.

Rondo dominated the likes of Nate Robinson and Marquis Teague en route to 20 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists. He was fantastic shooting the basketball, making 10 of his 16 attempts.

Chicago will send a much more formidable point guard out there tonight in veteran Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich missed the first meeting between these teams with a hip injury but is now healthy. He’s a feisty defender but doesn’t have the speed to match Rondo, so Boston’s point guard should still be able to dominate this matchup.

Take Advantage of the Rest

Tonight is a rare occasion for the Celtics. They’ll be playing on the road as the more rested team, and that almost never happens.

Boston struggled to carry its intensity and efficiency through both of their contests this past weekend. They played a double-overtime game Wednesday night and then traveled to Texas for a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday. That’s a difficult task to overcome. Tonight, however, they will be playing after two days off and should be fully charged for this contest.

The same cannot be said for the Bulls, who tipped off against the Grizzlies after 8 p.m. last night in Memphis. All five of Chicago’s starters played at least 31 minutes, and three of them (Luol Deng, Marco Belinelli and Joakim Noah) played at least 39. The Bulls hopped on a plane after the loss, flew to Chicago, and will be forced to take on the C’s tonight on a half-empty tank.