As a full-fledged, dyed-in-the-wool Chicago fan, nothing would make me happier than seeing the Bulls crush the Nets at the United Center in their final regular season game, clinching the league's best overall record at 62-20 and home court advantage throughout the postseason, for indeed those are the stakes on Wednesday night.
That said, there is absolutely NO REASON why coach Tom Thibodeau should play any of his starters (save for Keith Bogans, who doesn't count) more than twenty minutes against the dreadful New Jersey Nets. Let us list the reasons for the sake of brevity:
1. New Jersey Is Terrible - First take into account that two of the Nets three best players, Deron Williams and Kris Humphries, are out with injuries. According to the Nets' media notes, New Jersey will trot out a starting five of Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Stephen Graham, Dan Gadzuric and Brook Lopez. I'm sure these are all fine human beings whose mothers love them dearly, but they represent an absolutely putrid starting NBA lineup. And now that I've all but cued up the Harlem Globetrotters music for the Bulls, I'm sure these Nets will play the collective game of their lives.
2. Reciprocity - The Bulls are playing their final regular season home game at the United Center where they are 35-5, good for a share of the best home record in the league. The Nets are 5-35 on the road. The Bulls have won nine of their last 10 games. The Nets have lost nine of their last ten games.
3. The Injury Is Out - How about that for a pun? (hang head in shame) Seriously, though, it is hard to imagine a world where both Ronnie Brewer and Joakim Noah play in this game. That being said, I am the same person who wrote that Thibodeau would likely curtail his starters' minutes with the top seed in the East locked up, and Luol Deng was last seen at Madison Square Garden logging 44 minutes in a 13-point blowout. Thibodeau must swallow his food whole, redline his car's engine and sprint his dogs, because as far as I can tell the man is either full-stop or full speed ahead and never in-between.
4. The Bench Mob - The Nets reserves might actually never score against the Bulls' second unit, renowned around the league for being the best defensive five in the business. New Jersey has had its share of injuries and dressed only nine players for its Tuesday loss against the Bobcats. When you're counting on Johan Petro for quality minutes, it's time to reassess your expectations for winning.
5. Derrick Rose and Deng have performed so well and without complaint that they deserve a day off simply as a reward for an incredible year. Rose will likely win the league's MVP award and Deng may make an All-NBA defensive team, but what good is that if it doesn't even come with a hooky day?
Nets To Watch For
I always enjoy watching Brook Lopez, because he may represent the biggest inequity in effort between offense and defense in the entire NBA. To wit, the seven-foot, 265-pound center scored a robust 31 points on Monday night in 41 minutes of action. He also vaccuumed up a staggering three rebounds. If you're wondering how this could be, watch how many times you see the Bulls score tonight before Lopez even crosses half court. His nickname should be Cherry Pickins.
Bulls To Watch For
Truthfully, it's Tom Thibodeau. How much will he decide to use his starters with so many conflicting reasons in play? On the one hand, the Bulls have come this far, so why not play all out to grab home court advantage throughout the postseason and the feather-in-the-cap of the best regular season record? On the other hand, nothing is more important than having the entire team healthy for when the playoffs begin on Saturday. I don't know about you, but I'll be watching the Thibodeau tightrope all night long.
Winners of a season-high tying eight straight games and 20 for their last 22 (think about that!), the Bulls tip off the 82nd and final game of their spectacular 2010-2011 regular season at 7:00 CDT tonight at the United Center. Comcast Sportsnet Chicago has the call.
Follow Zachary Lee on Twitter @rightfieldsucks