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.