It’s not entirely accurate to say that the Golden State Warriors are playing the Chicago Bulls on Friday evening. It’s more like the Warriors against Joakim Noah and the Joakettes.
Chicago (35-29) will be without forward Taj Gibson (knee), and guards Kirk Hinrich (foot) and Rip Hamilton (back) in addition to all-world guard Derrick Rose, who continues to languish in basketball limbo. In other words, The Warriors should expect to notch their 38th win…right?
Jan 25, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry (30) and Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) chase a loose ball during the second half at the United Center. The Bulls won 103-87. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
We know Golden State too well by now to even approach that assumption. With teams like the Detroit Pistons wringing every ounce of energy from the Dubs at Oracle Arena, no opponent is too ravaged for Mark Jackson’s struggling troupe.
They’ve won four out of six on the current home stand, which ends when the final buzzer sounds on Friday. A 5-2 mark in a week’s worth of games looks and feels a lot better than 4-3, and, with a three-game road trip ahead, a win at home against the Bulls not only seems important, but almost necessary.
So, how do they get it done? A big night from center Andrew Bogut might serve as a productive first step. Bogut was still hurt the last time these two teams played, a 103-87 win for the Bulls at the United Center in Chicago. That night, “starting center” Festus Ezeli was held without a single point and pulled down just three rebounds, while his counterpart Noah (who, as a reminder is in uniform on Friday) pulled down a game-high 16 boards and dominated in the paint. Bogut will be a major factor in shutting down one of the Bulls’ only premier players expected to see any action in the rematch.
Heck, even David Lee had troubles pulling the ball down back on Jan. 25. It feels like Lee has been good for a double-double every night he suits up, but the Bulls held him to just six rebounds. And even though Lee finished with 23 points, 11 came on free throws. He shot just 6-of-15 from the field.
Without Hinrich and Hamilton in the fold, Golden State should also capitalize from the outside by freeing up Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack for plenty of open jump shots. Even Curry, who is fast approaching “best pure shooter in the game” status, had an off shooting night in the Windy City. One of the factors in Curry’s disappointing performance was that he simply didn’t receive many good looks at the hoop. He attempted just seven three-pointers, hitting three of them.
Still, things won’t come too easily for Golden State. The Bulls are 3rd in the NBA in scoring defense, allowing a paltry 91.3 points per game. Yes, players like Hamilton and Gibson have a lot to do with that, but head coach Tim Thibodeau also maps out strong schemes designed to stop specific opponents. You can bet your salary he’s studied the Warriors, knowing he’ll need one of his best game plans to make up for the absence of his injured starters.
Should Golden State win this game? Of course. But they may need to play lockdown defense down the stretch to get it done. Mark Jackson doesn’t seem like one to let his players become overconfident, and he’d better not start now.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (37-29) vs. Chicago Bulls (35-29)
WHERE: Oracle Arena
WHEN: 7:35 p.m. PST, CSN Bay Area
AT STAKE: A third straight win to finish off a 5-2 home stand.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Andrew Bogut/Joakim Noah. The matchup of the night may determine the outcome.
PREDICTION: Warriors 95, Bulls 89.