Here come the Chicago Bulls. They’re 6-3 SU and ATS in their past nine games, and they should have Joakim Noah back in the lineup when they host the New York Knicks as 10-point faves on the NBA odds board.
Jason’s record as of Dec. 16: 17-16-1 ATS, 1-3 Totals
Maybe the Chicago Bulls are the best team in the Eastern Conference after all. They were a fashionable preseason NBA Pick to make it all the way to the NBA Finals; despite a slow start, you can still get the Bulls (15-9 SU, 11-13 ATS) to win the East at 3-1, behind only the Cleveland Cavaliers at 5-6.
It could be a bargain. We still haven’t seen Chicago at full capacity much this year, but that should change Thursday night when the Bulls host the New York Knicks (5-22 SU, 10-17 ATS) in the front end of TNT’s doubleheader. Joakim Noah is expected to make his return for the Bulls after missing the past four games with an ankle injury. The NBA odds have opened with Chicago laying 10 points and a total of 194.5.
Go Play Inside
The last time we checked in on the Bulls, we faded them in last Friday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, but it wasn’t a strong recommendation by any means. We wanted to see whether Derrick Rose (17.1 PER) could continue to step up his performance after returning from his hamstring injury. Welp, 31 points in 32 minutes answers that question. The Bulls beat Portland 115-106 as 2.5-point home faves.
However, Rose was less impressive in Chicago’s last game, scoring just 14 points on 6-of-21 shooting Monday in a 93-86 loss to the Atlanta Hawks (–2.5 at home). Rose is still not getting to the line as much as coach Tom Thibodeau would like; instead, Rose was jacking up threes on Monday, going 0-for-7 from downtown.
Gibson Solid Body
Perhaps the former MVP just needs someone to clear the tall timber for him. Noah (16.2 PER) is by far Chicago’s best defender at plus-3.7 DBPM, not to mention the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He put in a full practice on Wednesday and should play Thursday (8:00 p.m. ET), barring a setback.
Ah, but just when we thought the Bulls lineup would be intact, Taj Gibson (17.3 PER) has been listed as questionable with a fresh ankle injury. Gibson has filled in admirably for Noah, but at plus-1.6 DBPM, he’s not quite the same force in the paint. If Gibson doesn’t play Thursday, Nikola Mirotic (15.4 PER) will presumably continue to get big minutes off the bench. He’s played very well over the past three weeks after falling out of the rotation in early November.
Then again, there isn’t much tall timber in the Knicks lineup. They rank No. 26 in the league in defensive efficiency at 107.3 points allowed per 100 possessions, and No. 26 in rebound rate at 48.3 percent. The Knicks do have two quality defensive bigs in Sam Dalembert (plus-3.4 DBPM) and Cole Aldrich (plus-2.6 DBPM), but Dalembert has been in and out of the starting five, and Aldrich is lucky if he gets to play at all.
We saw these issues compound at the Garden in Tuesday’s embarrassing 107-87 loss to the Dallas Mavericks (–7.5). Former Knick (and Bull, and Defensive Player of the Year) Tyson Chandler grabbed 14 rebounds in 25 minutes against his former employers, while Dalembert played just six minutes off the bench and Aldrich was a DNP for the third straight game.
The Knicks have some backcourt issues, too. Iman Shumpert (12.3 PER) is out with a dislocated left shoulder, and J.R. Smith (11.6 PER) will reportedly miss his fifth game in a row with plantar fasciitis. New York has been scrappy this year despite all these problems, covering five of its past eight games while going 1-7 SU. We’ll take our chances with Chicago anyway.
Free NBA Pick: Take the Bulls at BetOnline