Over the course of 82 games, every NBA team goes through a fluky bit of scheduling. For instance, after four months without seeing the Atlanta Hawks once, the Chicago Bulls will play Atlanta for the third time in three weeks on Tuesday night.
When last they met, the Bulls protected their home court and avenged a fourth quarter collapse at Atlanta the week before. Thus we have the third round, this time back at Phillips Arena.
Winners of nine of 10, and fresh off an exclamatory 50th win over the Sacramento Kings, the Bulls are almost completely healthy with the return of Carlos Boozer. Boozer picked up where he left off before his ankle injury, providing a strong post presence while occasionally making facepalm-worthy misplays. Up to this point, I think that's who 'Los is. Taj Gibson was a gametime decision Monday, but played well in limited minutes. It seems like Taj always has some sort of foot/ankle malady, just as he always seems to play through it. Part of that credit may belong to Cool Hand Lu, as Luol Deng hasn't missed a beat despite a nagging thigh contusion. Head coach Tom Thibodeau has praised Deng several times this season for the example his toughness sets for teammates.
The Hawks just went 3-2 on a homestand that included being absolutely pasted by the feast-or-famine Miami Heat, causing Al Horford to call a players-only meeting. With a four-game cushion on either side of their fifth-place standing, the Hawks don't have much to play for at this point in terms of playoff positioning. However, Atlanta is still incorporating former Bull Kirk Hinrich into the offense after acquiring him in exchange for Mike Bibby. According to Peach Tree Hoops, Hinrich's development is going smoothly:
Kirk Hinrich shot the ball well and I liked the way he pushed the ball in transition finding Joe and Marvin for threes off of the break. Hinrich finished with 15 points and six assists while throwing his body all over the floor defensively. Before he joined the Hawks, I never appreciated how hard Kirk plays and it seems that I like him more every game he plays in.
"Kirky" is most deserving of a honeymoon period in his new home, but Peach Tree will come to know Hinrich's offensive game very soon. Yes, that was a double entendre.
Hawks To Watch For
Coach T knows after two meetings that the way to beat Atlanta is to encourage unassisted jump shots. Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and Joe Johnsonare especially frequent culprits, and if the Bulls can keep the Hawks'free throws and points in the paint to a minimum, they will likely come away with another important road victory.
Bulls To Watch For
While Tuesday's game is the second of a back-to-back, the Bulls enter the game well-rested after all five starters sat for the 4th quarter of Monday's blowout win over the Kings. Boozer and Noah continue to seek some semblance of on-court chemistry. Granted that they've played only a handful of games together up to this point, but Boozer is a prolific post scorer and Noah is one of the best passing centers in the NBA. For the Bulls starting five to really hum, that frontcourt duo must find its synergy.
The stretch run of the regular season continues against the middling Atlanta Hawks. Tip-off for the national broadcast at Phillips Arena is at 7:00 CDT on TNT.
For live tweets and updates, follow Zachary Lee on Twitter @rightfieldsucks