The Miami Heat come to Chicago tonight riding the NBA’s longest current win streak of 8 games. At 37-14 they have the best record in the Eastern Conference by 5 games and the second best overall record in the league.
LeBron James, now in his tenth pro season, has been performing at a level not seen since Michael Jordan. His season averages of 27.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 7 apg and 1.7 spg accompanied by a staggering 57% FG rate make him far and away the leader to win the MVP award for the fourth time.
In Miami’s first game after the All-Star break, 28-year-old James had 24 points, 11 dimes, 6 boards and 4 steals in a come-from-behind victory in Atlanta last night.
The Heat outscored the Hawks 40-17 in the 4th quarter in the 103-90 victory. Veterans Shane Battier and Ray Allen combined for 32 points off the bench as Chris Bosh struggled, scoring only 6 points on 2-10 shooting.
The tenacious Bulls team last played on Tuesday night in The Big Easy where they bested the soon-to-be Pelicans 96-87 to improve their record to 31-22, currently good for the 5th spot in the East.
First-time All-Star Joakim Noah put up 15 points, 17 boards, 5 dimes and 3 blocks in the 48. Prior to the break coach Tom Thibodeau’s squad dropped 5 of 7 games with 6 of those contests on the road.
Chicago and Miami matched up for the first time on January 4th in South Beach. The Bulls, behind Carlos Boozer’s 27 points and 12 rebounds, topped the Heat 96-89 in a rare Miami home L. In fact, Miami has lost 6 of their last 8 regular season games against the Bulls including 9 of their last 11 in Chi-Town.
However, they did win 2 games at the United Center in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat, for all their greatness, have a fairly pedestrian road record of 14-11, while Chicago’s home mark of 16-10 isn’t all that intimidating.
Chicago has pulled together this season without their leader Derrick Rose, the 2011 NBA MVP. After tearing his ACL in Game 1 of the first round of the 2012 playoffs, the Chicago-native has missed all 53 of the Bulls games thus far. Recently the 2008 1st overall pick stated that he may not return to game action until next season. However he has been reported to be participating in live 5-5 drills in practice.
Tune in to TNT tonight at 8:00 PM ET to see if Miami can continue their hot streak against a tough Bulls team that gives up only 91.5 ppg and hits the boards hard.
The Chicago Bulls, 48-18, come to the Garden State tonight on a seven-game winning streak, tied with the Boston Celtics for tops in the Eastern Conference with sixteen regular season games remaining. They are 9-1 in their last 10 and the second stingiest team in the NBA in points allowed at 91.1 per game.
On this first official day of 2011 March Madness, coach Tom Thibadeau has two former NCAA Champions on his impressive roster: first-year Bull, ninth-year NBA vet PF Carlos Boozer (Duke-2001 National Champs) and fourth-year rubber band-man, rebounding stud Joakim Noah (U. of Florida-2006, 2007 National Champs).
However, both Bulls’ big men missed Chicago’s win at home over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday. Noah was out with the flu and Boozer missed his third straight game with a sprained left ankle. So far it seems that the former Gator will be in the lineup tonight, while the one-time Dukie will miss his fourth straight game.
The New Jersey Nets, 22-43, enter tonight’s inter-conference matchup on a five game W-streak, their longest victorious run in approximately five years. Coach Avery Johnson’s squad is a solid 18-16 at home this season. They bested the Boston Celtics on Monday night 88-79. Newly acquired, All-Star PG Deron Williams led the Nets with 16 points, 9 dimes, 6 boards and 3 swipes. Third-year C Brook Lopez added 20 points against the C’s. The Nets are undefeated in March and a big factor has been the 7-footer out of Stanford. During this winning stretch Lopez has averaged 25.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg and 3.6 blocks.
The Nets have 17 games left in their 2010-2011 campaign. They currently sit 5.5 games behind the Indiana Pacers for the last playoff spot in the East. The Bulls have lost 16 times in their last 17 visits to New Jersey and are 18-14 on the road compared to 30-4 at the United Center.
This evening’s contest is an important one for both sides. Each team wants to keep its respective winning streak rolling. With only a fifth of the regular season remaining, the Bulls need to stay hot and focused in order to compete with the Celtics for that top East seed. And if the Nets are to have any shot at the 2011 postseason, they’ll need to grab as many big W’s as they can from here on out.
In an equally compelling storyline, the results of the tie vote are in. Tune in to the Yes Network at 7:00 PM ET to find out which of my lucky green ties best captures the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day. Hope my partner Ryan Ruocco doesn’t show up wearing the same one.
Statistics may not lie, but they cannot predict the future. They merely enable us to make our best educated guesses. Even with the most exacting analysis of player stats from years past there is no way to guarantee the assembly of a winning team – anything can happen. That’s what keeps both real and fantasy sports so exciting.
Think about grabbing these guys a little earlier than you may have planned because they look to be underrated in some leagues and on the rise.
Devin Harris (Nets – PG)
With all the recent changes to the Nets organization from ownership on down, the team is hardly recognizable – which is exactly the look they’re going for. But there are still some familiar faces on the revamped roster who will be integral to the new-found success they seek.
Former All-Star Devin Harris is back in action. Devin has the speed and quickness to create transition opportunities on offense. If he can stay healthy this season he will log a lot of minutes and score points. And All-Star-to-be Brook Lopez will help out Harris in the assists column.
It will be interesting to see the relationship that Harris develops with new head coach Avery Johnson and whether he buys into Avery’s defensive philosophy. Ranked as low as 62, Devin is undervalued in some leagues so look to grab him in the 4th Round. When playing his best ball Devin ranks among the top point guards around.
Brandon Jennings (Bucks – PG)
Coming off a phenomenal rookie campaign in which he led the Bucks to the playoffs, Brandon Jennings is arguably more valuable than a 20th ranked point guard. Jennings started in all 82 games and proved he can get numbers.
In fact his first night out on the court as an NBA pro, Jennings wound up just one rebound and one assist shy of a triple double. Not to mention Jennings had a 55-point game against Golden State in November, setting the franchise rookie record.
The Bucks hope Jennings will come back more mature and physically stronger than in his rookie year. He appears to take a very serious approach to his game, which should spell good things for him down the road. The Bucks are a better team this year so they have more weapons to brandish. Joining forces with a healthy Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, Jennings will add tremendous value in Round 5.
After signing a contract extension with the Bulls earlier this month, Joakim Noah can finally charge full steam ahead. He is a steadily improving player who has just scratched the surface of his potential.
Noah plays with an energy and passion you have to love. His offensive game is continuing to develop. He is complimented by power forward Carlos Boozer, and once Boozer is healthy it will free up easy buckets for Noah. Noah is also an excellent rebounder, and he can block shots.
If Noah’s plantar fasciitis does not affect him the way it did last year, I think his numbers will go up significantly. He is ranked 15th in the center pool but if he makes it to Round 4, consider it a steal.
Luis Scola (Rockets – PF, C)
A ferocious rebounder and defender, Luis Scola is now the best player on the court for Houston. Filling in for Yao last season he was able to gain experience and showcase his talent, putting up 44 points against the Nets. His scoring has improved over the last few seasons and he’s versatile enough to face up and get the 18-20 foot jumper.
Though Yao Ming has returned he will be playing reduced minutes so Scola will continue to put up points and grab rebounds in his fourth year with the Rockets. And with his workload lightened, Scola’s minutes should have more impact.
The Rockets will have to play well to make the playoffs in the competitive West this season, and I expect Scola to lead the charge – perhaps earning his first All-Star appearance along the way. Ranked anywhere from 60-80 overall in most leagues, I value him as an early third-round pick.
Returning from a lost rookie year, Blake Griffin looks healthy and raring to go. He is as athletic as they come and has much to prove to the NBA.
Griffin is still considered a rookie, but he has no doubt learned a lot and gained valuable experience on the sidelines while recovering from his broken left kneecap. He has played very well in the exhibition season and has a legitimate shot at being a big-time contributor for the Clippers. Griffin will be their go-to guy and, as always, will rebound with the best of them.
You can probably get Griffin as a late pickup in many leagues because he is an unproven entity and you still have to worry about whether his knee will hold up under the rigors of the NBA schedule. So pick him in the 6th Round.
Joakim Noah had ten points, eight rebounds and three assists in Friday’s win over the Wiz, including this impressive dish to Derrick Rose off the fast break.