We notched a second straight NBA winner last night with the Clippers heading to Madison Square Garden and easily dispatching the Knicks for their 12th win in 14 Blake Griffin-less games. I am in no way suggesting the Clippers are better off without Blake, especially in the Playoffs, but the way other players like JJ Reddick have stepped into the void is a reminder that there is a fourth team out West come playoff time. The Clippers are unlikely to dethrone the Warriors, but the simmering rivalry looks to be trending towards a delightful second round matchup. We can only hope.
Meanwhile, there are two less games on tonight’s schedule with the Celtics at Sixers and Jazz at Wizards being postponed by the snowmaggen gripping the Northeast. Wherever you are, today seems like a great day to bunker down and watch some hoops. Luckily there are still some nice games to choose from, highlighted by the Bulls and Cavaliers on ABC’s debut of Saturday Night Primetime Hoops.
It’s a nice splashy way to forge the NBA onto the national conscious a little earlier than playoff time, and a nice splashy way for the Cavaliers to introduce NEW head coach, Tyron Luu. But the bigger question, will it make a difference? Was Blatt the problem? And even if he wasn’t “the problem” per se, did enough of the locker room perceive it that way so that they may begin playing looser and freer? And lastly, does ANYONE on Earth believe the Cavaliers brass when they say “LeBron had nothing to do with the decision.” Laughable, right?
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Today’s Free Pick:
Chicago Bulls at Cleveland Cavaliers -11
The mercurial Bulls visit the Cavaliers, and like normal, they do so with some health questions on their roster. Joakim Noah is looking more and more like he and basketball will not be a fit in the 2016 season. And of course veterans Mike Dunleavy and Kirk Heinrich remain out and to have a game and know that Derrick Rose is 100% (and has full vision) is always a big ask.
But despite it all, they are still just six games back of the Cavs in the East and have one of the best one-two combos in the league in Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol, both who will likely represent the Bulls in Toronto for the All Star Game. They are getting quality contributions from Nicola Mirotic and Derrick Rose’s shooting percentage, while still lousy, has crept up to 41.4% lately.
That’s the good news. The bad news is, they are just 2-6 in their last eight games and the whole team seems to have forgotten how to shoot at the same time. Butler is scoring, but is 0-12 on his last 12 three-point attempts. Mirotic is shooting 17.4% in his last five games. They will have to shoot better tonight to compete in Cleveland.
And it seems likely they will. Both are in the midst of rare depths of shooting slumps. Expect some regression to the mean tonight. Chicago plays Cleveland tough historically. They are 4-6 straight up in their last ten meetings, but 6-4 ATS. They actually hold the statistical edge in shooting percentage and rebounding margin and have covered four of their last five head to head meetings.
Eleven points is a pretty big cushion for two teams that have a pretty contentious and hard-fought history. Jimmy Butler has historically played LeBron well – as well as just about anyone aside from Kawhi Leonard. Expect him to make things tougher for The King tonight and to make him really work. I like Chicago to do what they seem to do regularly; conjure up a big effort in a big game just when it looks like they are beginning to fold. They usually bring it against top competition, and I like them to do so tonight as well.