The Chicago Bulls (50-19) come to the Peach State to take on the Atlanta Hawks (40-30). This evening’s contest will be the finale of the three scheduled meetings this 2010-11 NBA regular season between these Eastern Conference playoff-bound teams.
In round one, Atlanta rallied from a 19-point deficit to best the Bulls on March 2nd at Philips Arena, 83-80. Al Horford led the comeback with a career-high tying 31 points in that game. This loss lit a fire under Chicago. The Bulls proceeded to go on an 8-game winning streak and are 9-1 in their last 10. In the Bulls-Hawks rematch on March 11th, in the midst of this season-best streak, leading MVP candidate Derrick Rose scored 34 points in a win (94-76) over the Hawks in the Windy City.
Chicago is now tied with the Boston Celtics for the #1 seed in the East, while both sit only 2.5 games ahead of the dangerously talented and constantly scrutinized team in Miami. With only three weeks remaining until the 82 regular are done, players and hoops-heads alike are no doubt looking ahead to the postseason. Both the Hawks and Bulls will be part of commissioner Stern’s 2011 ‘after-party’ in the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta is seemingly locked into the 5th spot in the East - 4.5 games behind the Orlando Magic and 4 games above the Philadelphia 76ers. They won Sunday at home over the Detroit Pistons (104-96) with six Hawks reaching double figures. However, this W only raised their record in the last 10 games to 4-6. The Hawks have to pull together and string together some much-needed wins in their last dozen games so they can establish momentum going into the playoffs.
Forging full steam ahead, the Bulls dominated the Sacramento Kings last night at the United Center, 132-92, with their highest scoring output in nearly three seasons. Ninth-year PF Carlos Boozer returned to the lineup for Chicago after sitting out 5 games with a sprained ankle. The former Dukie scored 16 points, grabbed 5 boards and dished 4 dimes in only 26 minutes. In fact, the game was so one-sided that the Bulls outscored the Kings in every quarter and were able to get their starters significant bench time. PG Rose had 18 points and 8 dimes in only 28 minutes, so he should be more rested than usual in the second game of this Bulls back-to-back.
A victory tonight for the Hawks (who began as the Buffalo Bisons – kinda like a Bull, no?), against the NBA’s hottest team (though only 19-15 on the road) would be a great springboard for the stretch-run and a solid season closeout before the first round of the playoffs. Dick Stockton, who’s been my first-round broadcast partner the last couple of seasons, will join me in the booth tonight when the Hawks take on the Bulls at 8:00 PM ET on TNT.