The Chicago Bulls (4-20) ended a 10-game skid on Friday in the matchup with the Hornets. Their longest of the season so far. With little to no rest, they face the New York Knicks (12-12) on Saturday with hopes of recording their first set of back-to-back wins of the season.
The Bulls are currently last in the league standing at an abysmal 4-20 record heading into a three game home stand. We are the point in the season where teams that have yet to place themselves among the league’s best, have to make a decision to either sink or swim. Start winning more games and swim up to compete for playoffs or sink and look forward to the NBA Draft in July. With the Bulls entering rebuild mode this past offseason, it’s obvious to say they will continue to sink as they search to pair a top lottery pick with Lauri Markkanen, the seventh pick in the 2017 draft. Markkanen has been one of the seldom bright spots for the Bulls this season leading the team in points (14.7) and rebounds (8.1) per game. He’s displaying an identical playing style to that of his opponent tonight — Kristaps Porzingis — and even his stat line holds many similarities to Porzingis’ rookie season. Markkanen led the Bulls with 24 points, including a critical 3-point field goal at the end of regulation and another in overtime, and 12 rebounds to help seal the win over the Hornets. Marrkanen’s proven abilities throughout the first 24 games of the season has him at the front of the other 29 teams’ minds when they see the Bulls are up next on their schedule.
“When other teams are putting their game plans together he’s number one as far as how they’re going to guard him, how they’re going to play him,” Hoiberg said Friday, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “He’s demanding a lot of attention. It’s either switching or blitzing almost every time.”
Nikola Mirotic made his season debut on Friday after missing the first 23 games with facial fractures and a concussion sustained in practice on October 17 while fighting with teammate Bobby Portis. Mirotic scored six points on 2-of-7 shooting and grabbed three rebounds in 15 minutes.
The Knicks have been resting since Wednesday night after their victory over the Grizzlies. Kristaps Porzingis scored 18 points on 8-of-19 shooting in his first game back since injuring his ankle against the Heat on November 29. He struggled locating a rhythm for the first half of the game shooting just 3-for-11 for six points but picked it up in the second half scoring the other 12 points on 5-of-8 field goal attempts.
“We knew that second half was going to be different and you could already see that end of the first half we were turning up our defense and it was giving us results right away,” Porzingis said. “And that’s what we did in the second half. We came out with a different mentality and we had that run.”
The Knicks have also been without their second leading scorer, guard Tim Hardaway Jr. with a stress ailment in his left shin. Hardaway Jr. has missed the previous two games and is expected to be out at least another week. Wednesday’s win lifted the Knicks back even after losing two straight games in Porzingis’ and Hardaway Jr.’s absence.
With Hardaway Jr. out, players like Courtney Lee have to step up in picking up more of a scoring load to support Porzingis’ 25.4 points per game. On Wednesday, Lee stepped up marvelously leading the Knicks with 24 points on 10-of-17 shot attempts (seven more shot attempts than his season average of 10 per game). That’s just one game though and anybody can conjure up one great game in an 82-game season. Whether they can supply that elevated level of play on a consistent basis will determine their success without Hardaway Jr.
The Knicks will start the game off slowly as they did Wednesday but, just like on Wednesday, once they will feel the heat in their somewhat fresh legs and move around better on defense the game will sway in their direction. Knicks win, 101-93.