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Game Preview: Pelicans at Bulls

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Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into Saturday's game, the Chicago Bulls have won five in a row and eight of their last nine. During this stretch, they've beaten some stiff competition including wins against the Blazers, Grizzlies and Raptors. This, despite key players like Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson missing multiple games.

Conversely, the Pelicans have been alternating between wins and losses for the entire season. They've never lost more than 3 in a row, but have still to win more than 2 consecutive games. Perhaps the most relevant little quirk about our record is the fact we're yet to win both games of a back-to-back. Considering their win last night against the Spurs, the odds seem a little more stacked than usual.

No Longer Just Defense

In the last couple of seasons, the Bulls have heavily relied on their defense as the offense ranked in the bottom third. Well, that's not remotely the case anymore as evidenced by an Offensive Efficiency that is currently stronger than ours. Having Derrick Rose has helped, but he's not as yet been confused with the player who won the 2010-11 MVP.

Rather, the Bulls have been carried on the non-Thibodeau side of the court by Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol. In a contract year, and coming off a disappointing season, Butler has been nothing short of amazing. After last year's NBA Finals, Kawhi Leonard was poised to be the next big thing at small forward. Thanks to some injuries, Butler has literally flown by him with career highs in most statistical categories.

Not to be outdone, Gasol has shone nearly as bright as he's enjoying his best season since the Lakers were relevant and Andrew Bynum was a meaningful contributor. And that 'soft' tag, he's been carrying around for all these years?

"Pau has great toughness and that's what I love about him," Thibodeau said.

It's been put out to pasture.

3 Keys to Victory

  1. Anthony Davis. For the first time in the regular NBA season, Davis will face the Bulls in Chicago. In his first two years, Davis was sidelined due to injuries. In order for the Pelicans to leave with a win, Davis is going to have to perform like the best player on the court. The Bulls are stacked and quite healthy so it's going to take a herculean effort. To start, AD dominating Gasol like he did back on November 8, 2013 would go a long way.
  2. Limit their trips to the line. The Bulls get more points from free throws than any other team not named the Sacramento Kings. They have five players who average 3.0 or more free throw attempts a game, with Jimmy Butler leading the charge at 8.1 FTA. For comparison, the Pelicans only have two (Davis, Evans).
  3. Win the paint. According to Hoop Stats, the Pelicans are the best team in the paint, but the Bulls aren't far behind with their fourth place showing. Most likely, Omer Asik is going to play big minutes, but he's going to have to come up big on the boards and defensively without getting into foul trouble like he has of late.
The Bulls record of 20-9 doesn't do them justice. When healthy, they are the best team in the Eastern Conference. The Pelicans will have to match the inspired effort the Bulls are sure to give. My recommendation? Have the entire roster watch Ryan Anderson's highlights from the Pelicans triple overtime win in Chicago last season.