12/11 Game Preview: Celtics at Bulls
CHICAGO -- Back-to-back victories may not seem like the biggest of accomplishments, but in a season in which the Chicago Bulls are experiencing plenty of growing pains and toll-taking injuries, even small successes carry some weight.
After a weekend in which Chicago managed to snap a 10-game losing streak and hold on for a pair of closely contested wins, the heavy lifting continues on Monday when the Bulls host the Boston Celtics at the United Center.
The Celtics (23-5) boast the league's best record while the Bulls (5-20) possess the league's worst mark. Despite the disparity and all of the challenges that the Celtics present, Chicago's two-game winning streak has provided the Bulls with a renewed sense of confidence after dealing with the 10 consecutive setbacks.
The Bulls slipped past the Hornets 119-111 in overtime at Charlotte on Friday, then posted a 104-102 home victory over the New York Knicks on Saturday.
Chicago is benefitting from the return of Nikola Mirotic, who missed 23 games with facial fractures and a concussion sustained in a fight with teammate Bobby Portis. After returning to action on Friday, Mirotic sparked the Bulls with 19 points Saturday.
The Bulls withstood a late-fourth-quarter surge by the Knicks and made enough plays late to win for the second straight night.
"We've got to keep hopefully building and gain a little confidence with finding a way to win two close games," Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg said after the Saturday victory. "Hopefully, we'll get a little rest for our guys (Sunday) and bounce back with good effort in what will obviously be an extremely tough game on Monday."
For a team that has already endured its share of adversity, including the recent lengthy losing streak, using actual victories as a springboard is a sign that the Bulls haven't lost faith in themselves while navigating difficult times.
"We've been in a lot of tough games," Chicago guard Kris Dunn said Saturday. "It just shows that we're starting to get it together down the stretch (in games)."
Now the Bulls will have to take another step forward against the league's top team.
The Celtics have won seven of their last nine games, and they bounced back from a loss at San Antonio on Friday with a 91-81 road victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday.
Boston avoided losing for the second straight game after building a 16-point, fourth-quarter lead. The Celtics weathered a late Pistons surge while Boston missed 12 straight shots, emerging on top while giving up season-low point total.
"We were locked in," Celtics forward Aron Baynes said. "Our offense wasn't as crisp tonight as we wanted it to be, but defensively we had a game plan and we stuck with it. We were trying to pack the paint and make them make plays from the outside. Last time, they really had whatever they wanted inside the paint. Tonight, we wanted to go out there and control it a lot better."
The Celtics will look to avoid offensive lulls on Monday against the Bulls, who, despite their record, have impressed opposing teams with their effort. Playing on a short turnaround, Boston will again be without forward Marcus Morris, who didn't play on Sunday and who has already been ruled out for Monday due to a left knee injury.