The Chicago Bulls are one of the best road teams in the NBA, but against the Golden State Warriors, with the best record in the league and 19 consecutive home victories, it’s going to be a lot more difficult than usual.
The Golden State Warriors have won five games in a row and 13 of their last 14. At 36-6, they have the best record in the NBA and are on pace to have one of the best in NBA history. No one is saying 72-10, but if they reach the All-Star break with 7 losses or less, it’s going to be a daily comparison to the 1996 Bulls team which still holds the record for best regular season record, and won the first championship of three in the second three-peat of the Jackson-Jordan-Pippen era.
In the previous encounter, the Warriors won 112-102 (December 6). The Warriors came back from behind in the fourth quarter to win a 12th consecutive game (the streak ended at 16) as Draymond Green led the way scoring 31 points, followed by Klay Thompson with 24. Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 24 points and Pau Gasol had an impressive 22-20 double double, but Derrick Rose had one of his worse game of the season, going 2-of-11 from the field and scoring only 9 points.
And what now? The Bulls aren’t having the best January in memory. They’re coming off a 96-84 home loss and it seems that out of all the players they’ve been missing, the absence of Mike Dunleavy has been the most difficult for them to cope with. They’re only 7-7 this month and it has shown on Jimmy Butler more than on anyone else. Before January began he was even mentioned in MVP discussions, but is averaging only 16.3 points per game this month while shooting only 40.2% from the field and struggling to get to the line as easily as before.
But when speaking of MVP, look no further than Stephen Curry and maybe even Klay Thompson. Thompson has carried the offense in the last two games, scoring 83 points over the last two wins, including 52 (37 in one quarter) in the win over the Kings. Curry is averaging “only” 20.2 points per game over the last five, but has dished out 32 assists in the last three games with the Warriors averaging 123.8 points per game in their current winning streak.
They key to stopping the Warriors? Not letting them get into that fast break rhythm. The Bulls don’t have the shooters to keep up with the Warriors when they’re on the run, but they do have the ability to make Stephen Curry struggle, especially if Joakim Noah is healthy. Establishing an outside shot early but not forcing it (especially Rose who has done well recently to keep that issue under control) to start pulling Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green away from the basket won’t hurt either.
The more this season advances the less championship-like the Bulls seem to be. However, it once again will be up to the health of their players, and even someone like Dunleavy plays a big part in the grand scheme of things. The Warriors showed they can handle absences – David Lee and Andrew Bogut for example, quite well. Having everyone fit makes them the best team in the league right now, and another dominant performance against the Bulls will only cement the truth everyone is almost convinced of.