Keys to the Game: Bulls at LA Clippers (02.03.18)

LOS ANGELES -- There will be plenty of introductions Saturday afternoon when the Los Angeles Clippers play host to the Chicago Bulls, and many of those getting-to-know-you handshakes will be among players wearing the same uniform.

When the Clippers and Bulls meet at Staples Center, a pair of retooled rosters will clash in a game expected to take on an anything-goes tone. There could be multiple new players on both sides making a scouting report more of a guessing game.

Blake Griffin is no longer with the Clippers having been dealt to the Detroit Pistons on Monday. At least the Clippers have played a game to understand how life without their All-Star will unfold. But L.A. lost that contest 104-96 to the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday.

Coincidentally, a day after playing the Trail Blazers in Portland on Wednesday, the Bulls made a high-profile trade of their own, sending forward Nikola Mirotic to the New Orleans Pelicans. That deal did not have the same impact on the Bulls as the Griffin deal did on the Clippers, yet it remains a significant roster change.

More roster-adjusting deals could be coming from both teams, meaning Saturday's game in downtown Los Angeles could be a duel of players with plenty of distractions.

Having made their trade earlier in the week, the Clippers have at least been working their new players into their system. Guard Avery Bradley, forward Tobias Harris and center Boban Marjanovic all are expected to debut in Clippers colors Saturday, although Bradley has been dealing with a recent groin injury.

For Clippers coach Doc Rivers, getting new players into the mix has not been a stretch, especially during a season when the team has been crushed by injuries.

"What we told them (Thursday) is that we can't ease in to this," Rivers said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "We can't expect to wait five or six games at this point in the season to mesh, and that's what it usually takes or more than that. But you do that and you're out of the playoffs."

In other words, despite losing their best player and sitting outside of playoff eligibility come Saturday, the 25-25 Clippers have their sights on the playoffs.

The Bulls don't figure to be as optimistic, not at 18-33 and far from playoff-eligibility in the Eastern Conference. It's why reports are circulating that their roster rebuild could continue before Thursday's NBA trade deadline.

So will Saturday's game showcase a Bulls team more focused on losing in order to get a better draft pick this summer, rather than one that is trying to get the most out of the second half of the season?

"We're not looking at it like (tanking)," forward Bobby Portis said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "As a basketball player you're not just saying, 'Oh we're going to tank to get picks or anything.' We're just trying to do our job each and every day."

It was Portis' fight with Mirotic in October that led to Mirotic missing the first 23 games and ultimately requesting a deal out of Chicago.

The Bulls received Omer Asik, Tony Allen and Jameer Nelson back from the Pelicans. Both the Clippers and Bulls received first-round draft picks in their deals. But those picks won't help until next year. Starting Saturday, these are two teams trying to understand who they are now.

"The goal before (the trade) was winning and the goal right now is the same," Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "We want to keep winning, but with different guys."

The Clippers will be without guards Austin Rivers (ankle) and Jawun Evans (abdomen) for Saturday's game. The Bulls are expected to be without forward Lauri Markkanen (personal reasons) and guards Kris Dunn (concussion) and Cameron Payne (foot).

by The Associated Press