LOCATION: United Center, Chicago, ILL
MEDIA: Fox Sports South, Soul Classics 103.5 FM
TICKETS: StubHub, TICKETMASTER
Memphis(39-33) faces the 2nd best defense in the leagueafter facing the best defense in Boston. Unlike Boston however Chicago hits the boards and has legitimate big men to harass the Grizzlies inside. The Grizzlies can’t rest on their laurels after beating the Celtics because Chicago just might be the best team in the league right now. Don’t expect to see much of a letdown because Owner Mike Heisley is probably going to be sitting courtside to watch his favorite team beat his former favorite and when Mike is in the house the Grizzlies usually give a great effort.
Chicago (50-19) is 10-1 in their last 11 games making them one of, if not the, hottest teams in the league right now. What’s more the Bulls haven’t lost in Chicago since January 18th when the Bobcats shocked the Bulls 83-82 when Derrick Rose missed a shot at the buzzer. Unlike Boston, who finished barely above .500 against the Western Conference in the Garden (8-7), Chicago is 31-4 at home and have only lost to one Western Conference team at home (the Clippers believe it or not). Derrick Rose powers the Bulls but Deng, Boozer and Noah all are having good seasons (when healthy).
Point Guards:Mike ConleyvsDerrick Rose
Derrick Rose is being mentioned a lot for MVP of the league and rightfully so. He has his teamat the top of the Eastern Conference, is6th in the league in scoring at 24.9 ppg, 10th in assists (7.8) and twice scored 42 points in a game this season. AsRose goes so go the Bulls. The only drawback toRose’s game has been the propensity for turnovers. Rose is 8th in the league in turnovers per game. Mike Conley doesn’t have the individual numbers of Rose but in his ownway is nearly as valueable to the Grizzlies. Conley is 14th in the league in assists per game (6.7) and 5th in the league in steals (1.76) and is protecting the ball well ranking 10th in the league in assists perturnover.
Shooting Guards:Tony AllenvsKeith Bogans
Keith Bogans is in many ways similar to Sam Young with Memphis. He isn’t expected to contribute much offensively. His focus is on defense and taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. Tony Allen is not a great perimeter shooter but he can drive the ball for easy baskets, especially after stealing the ball. Allen will probably be picking up Rose and/or Deng a lot in this game as the Grizzlies will try and keep their best defender on the Bulls hot hand allowing Conley and Young to float against Bogans more.
Small Forwards:Sam YoungvsLuol Deng
If Derrick Rose is the next Michael Jordan then Luol Deng is Scottie Pippen. Deng is quietly having an all-star season but his true worth to the team seems to go unnoticed. Deng outplayed Rudy Gay in the first matchup to the tune of 28 points on 11-17 shooting. Deng’s size will be a struggle for anyone guarding him on the Grizzlies. Sam Young is quiet on the court. He doesn’t score a lot, he isn’t demonstrative and he doesn’t get posterized on defense. That last part is the most important thing to know about Young.
Power Forwards:Zach RandolphvsCarlos Boozer
If there is a more important matchup for the Grizzlies than Rose vs Conley it is this one. Boozer has been struggling of late with Chicago only averaging 12.6 ppg and 6.8 rpg over the last 10 games. Boozer has been slowed by a bad ankle missing all but two of the last 7 games. Boozer scored in double figuresin 20consecutive games before the injury but he hasn’t been rebounding that much reaching double figures in boards only teice since The 3rd game in January. Zach Randolph has become theopponents #1 focus with Rudy Gay out but still Z-Bo is able to score and rebound. It is taking a toll however asZ-Bo isaveraging 19.8 ppg and 9.7 rpgin the last 10 games. Boozer may look to score a lot but if he doesn’t focus on blocking out for rebounds this could get intesting.
Centers:Marc Gasolvs Joakim Noah
The big men with the international flair battle here. Noah has former great french tennis star Yannick Noah as a father. Marc has Spanish superstar PauGasol as a brotherbutboth players have made a name for themselves in the NBA. Noah’s return from his injury took the Bulls from a good team to a great one. If Boozer is the offensive banger around the basketthen Noah is the defensive one. Noah averages a double-double with 12.4 ppg and 11.2 rpg. Noah is having exactly the type of season you would expect from him including the injuries. Gasol on the other hand is not having the year people expected. His scoring and rebounding are down but that doesn’t mean Gasol isn’t contributing. Gasol is the 2nd best assist man for centers in the league and his size alows hiim to protect the rim well. Gasol will struggle with Noah’s speed however.
Chicago’s bench is specialist more than generalists. Kyle Korver is the long range bomber. Ronnie Brewer is the defensive specialist. Kurt Thomas the old muscle under the rim. Taj Gobson the hustle player who overcomes his lack of size with incredible effort. No one is expected to do a lot off the bench. They are expected to do what they do well and let the starters do the rest. Memphis’ bench is asked to be more well-rounded. Mayo, Battier, Arthur and whoever runs the point are all expected to both contribute on offense and play heads up defense. With Rudy out for the year everyone also knows they will be expected to contribute when they get on the court.