It's the start of a challenging six-game road trip through the Western Conference on Wednesday night for Chicago and it could help determine whether the Bulls really are a playoff team in the ultra-weak East or if they can get into the draft lottery. San Antonio is an 8-point favorite on NBA odds for Wednesday's game with a total of 190.
Noah In Question
The Bulls started the year as one of the NBA's worst road teams at 3-11 but they have been excellent away from the United Center since in winning six of the next seven. That one defeat was at Washington. It's not like the Bulls are beating good teams on the road in that stretch, though. The foes: Brooklyn (which was still struggling), Memphis (pretty good win), Milwaukee, Orlando, Cleveland and Charlotte.
Chicago (20-24 ATS, 18-26 O/U at sportsbooks) enters off a 95-86 home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday. We liked the Bulls on our NBA picks in that one but that was before All-Star center Joakim Noah was ruled out with an illness. Noah is by far the team's best player on both ends of the floor with Luol Deng in Cleveland now. Noah's shot looks ugly but the offense still runs through him because he can dribble and pass -- at least six assists in 10 of his past 14 games -- and is a good decision-maker. He's also one of the best rebounders in the league at 11.4 per game. He has had double-digit rebounds in 16 straight games. On defense his energy is the key and Kevin Love dominated with 31 points Monday with Noah not out there to pester him. He did travel with the team to Texas.
The Bulls also remain without point guard Kirk Hinrich, who missed his fourth straight game Monday with a hamstring injury. This was the Bulls' bench without Noah and Hinrich on Monday: Nazr Mohammed, Tony Snell, Mike James and Cartier Martin. That's ugly. While Noah seems rather likely to play in this one, Hinrich probably sits again. So that should mean another 40-minute night for point guard D.J. Augustin, who is averaging 21.6 points and 5.2 assists in the past five.
Good Riddance Houston!
We liked Houston -1.5 on our NBA picks for sports bettors on Tuesday when the Rockets hosted San Antonio and it paid off as Houston improved to 3-0 this season against the Spurs with a 97-90 victory despite the Rockets not having James Harden due to a sprained thumb. It was the first time San Antonio didn't score 100 points since a Christmas loss to Houston.
The Spurs (22-23 ATS, 26-18-1 O/U at sportsbooks) simply aren't beating the good teams in the league this season and that was their fourth loss in the past six overall. San Antonio again played Tuesday without injured starters Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter.
You won't see the Spurs' Manu Ginobili tonight, either. Coach Gregg Popovich always could bench one of his Big 3 in the second of a back-to-back but Ginobili made it easy for Popovich by leaving Tuesday's game with tightness in his hamstring after a pretty awesome dunk. San Antonio is 3-0 in games Ginobili has missed this season.
First meeting. Last season the Spurs swept the two games. In Chicago, they won 103-89 behind 26 points from Leonard and 18 from Green. San Antonio's Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili all sat out with "injuries." Thus the Spurs were 3.5-point underdogs on NBA odds. In San Antonio, the Spurs won 101-83 as 8.5-point favorites as Duncan had 18 points and 10 rebounds. Parker missed that one injured again. Marco Belinelli, who is now a Spur, led Chicago with 21 points. San Antonio is 28-10 all-time at home against Chicago.
Free NBA picks: Chicago +8 and the under. Only take the points if Noah plays. The Spurs have covered five of their past six in the second of a back-to-back, but they are just so thin right now with all the injuries. Chicago is 1-4 ATS in its past five against teams with a winning record. The under has hit in the past seven meetings at San Antonio.