Chicago Bulls at Charlotte Hornets (-1, 188 o/u)
Even though there are still almost 20 games left to play in the regular season, you have to think that the Chicago Bulls (40-26, 20-12 away) are already thinking “what might have been?” The Bulls once had a large lead at the top of the Central Division, but have seemingly dealt with one injured player after another and now trail the surging Cavaliers by 1.5 games.
Currently, Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, and Taj Gibson are all on the shelf for Chicago. The shorthanded squad dropped three straight games to the Pacers, Spurs, and Grizzlies last week, but squeaked out a 104-95 OT win over the lowly 76ers on Wednesday. Guard Aaron Brooks scored a season-high 31 points in the win.
Coach Tom Thibodeau realizes the monumental challenge that awaits his short-staffed team in the days ahead.
“We have a lot of guys out,” Thibodeau said. “[We need to] find a way to scratch out wins, hold the fort until we can get some guys back and we go from there.”
Added Brooks, “This team is resilient. It’s going to make us better in the long run.”
Joakim Noah also missed the game against the Sixers, but the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year could be back for tonight’s away game at the Charlotte Hornets (28-35, 15-18 home).
“We’ve been playing a lot of games. I don’t think it’s a big roadblock,” Noah said. “I have to listen to my body and I’ll use the next couple days to be ready.”
Thanks to a recent five-game win streak, the Hornets are just half a game out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The win streak came to an end on Monday, though, with a dismal 95-69 loss to the Wizards. Charlotte also dropped its last game (113-106 to Sacramento).
The good news for the team is that guard Kemba Walker (18.5 PPG, 5.2 APG) recently returned to the lineup after missing 18 games due to a knee injury. He scored six points during Wednesday’s setback to the Kings.
Unfortunately, now comes word that forward Al Jefferson (17.2 PPG, 8.8 RPG) is out after suffering a calf injury against the Kings.
“He heard something pop, so that’s obviously concerning,” said Charlotte head coach Steve Clifford.
Added Jefferson, “The quicker we can get the pain out, the quicker I can be back. It’s not a long-term thing.”
The Bulls are 9-7 ATS as an away favorite; with the Hornets starting to slide, consider Chicago laying the points (-1).
(Photo credit: Keith Allison (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)