The Bulls still lead the Eastern Conference by a half game entering Monday’s contest but have lost three games in row and some key players over the past week. The Grizzlies reeled off 11 wins in a row, but their legs couldn’t hold up in the second half against the Dallas Mavericks who snapped their win streak on Friday night.
Which team gets back into the win column on Monday. Let’s preview both teams below.
Bulls Will Lean on DeMar DeRozan, Quick Offense
The injury list for the Bulls is extensive. Derrick Jones Jr. is out with a sprained knee. Zach LaVine is out with a sprained knee. Lonzo Ball is out with knee soreness. Alex Caruso is out of health and safety protocols, but will not play as he continues getting up to speed with conditioning. Javonte Green and Tyler Cook are both out as well.
So the Bulls are severely shorthanded even if they still have DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic to lean on.
Bear in mind that not only are Ball, Caruso, Jones and Green in the top seven of the Bulls in on-court Net Rating, but their replacements are all deeply in the negative. This is the problem with injury waves. Not only do you miss their play, but it forces lesser players into greater roles they can’t handle against better competition.
The bigger issue for the Bulls has been their defense falling off a cliff. Their defense has gotten worse each month of the season and fallen to 117.4 in the month of December. They are down to 20th in schedule-adjusted defensive rating at Dunks And Threes. Against the fifth-best offense (schedule adjusted league-wide), this is going to be an issue.
On the other end, DeRozan should have a huge game. He’s one of the most efficient scorers against drop defense, which is what the Grizzlies run most of the time. Without Dillon Brooks, the Grizzlies will struggle to get over screens and defend him, and he’ll generate free throws on top of it. DeRozan ranks 10th in producing points per direct opportunity against drop defense per Second Spectrum.
Chicago will need to make this a chaotic affair. They are the most efficient team in the league in transition and fourth in half-court offense. They struggle right now getting stops, so they need this to be a little wild.
Grizzlies Should Feast on Offense
Memphis is coming off a painful loss to the Mavericks at home on Friday. It was on the second half of a back-to-back, but also against a division rival, so this is a bounce back spot. Memphis is 8-6 straight up and ATS after a loss this season, per Bet Labs.
The Grizzlies rank fifth in defense in January, they’ve been much better on that end. Their pick-and-roll defense is middle of the road, but they don’t beat themselves (fifth-lowest in opponent points off turnovers), they don’t give up easy scores (third-fewest opponent second chance points), and they protect the paint (ninth-fewest points in the paint allowed).
They are more vulnerable in transition, however, which is where Chicago should try and take advantage.
Offensively, Memphis should get what it wants in this game. Ja Morant is one of the best in the league attacking drop defense, which is what the Bulls prefer to do especially with their injuries. Morant will have floaters for days. Steven Adams should have dimes from the pinch post to cutters. Offense overall should come easy here.
The Grizzlies are in a good spot to bounce back and without both Ball and Caruso, the Bulls just don’t have the defense to hold Memphis down. I have this projected at Grizzlies as double-digit favorites based on Memphis’ edge in both halfcourt and transition offense. (Chicago is the best transition offense per possession, but they don’t run it that much.)
I lean towards the over as well, based on how the Bulls have to play with their injuries and what Memphis should be able to get against them.
Pick: Over 224.5 | Grizzlies -5.5