Two of the NBA's hottest teams square off inside the United Center during this interconference matchup on Tuesday night. The Los Angeles Clippers, winners of six straight, look to extend their streak against a Chicago Bulls team that has rallied off three consecutive wins.
With the Bulls star point guard, Derrick Rose, still sidelined by an ACL injury, Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau has leaned on veterans Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. Both players have logged at least 39.8 minutes per game, thanks to their effectiveness and inconsistent play from Chicago's reserves.
As for the Clippers, their three-headed monster of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford have shared the scoring load, with each pouring in at least 16.1 points per game. The Clippers enjoy a plus-7.8 scoring differential on the season, third best in the NBA.
This game features the third-best shooting team in the NBA (Clippers, 48.0 field-goal percentage) matched up with the league's second-best shooting defense (42.4). The Clippers routed the Bulls 101-80 in L.A. during their first meeting this season.
Time: Tuesday, Dec. 10, 9:30 p.m. ET
Records: Los Angeles Clippers (14-6), Chicago Bulls (11-8)
Betting line: Clippers -3 (according to Vegas Insider Consensus)
Injuries (via CBSSports.com)
Chauncey Billups (foot), out
Grant Hill (knee), out
Trey Thompkins (knee), out
Kirk Hinrich (elbow), probable
Richard Hamilton (foot), out
Derrick Rose (knee), out
Blake Griffin, PF, Clippers vs. Carlos Boozer, PF, Bulls
The Bulls will need a stellar performance from the 10-year veteran Boozer if they hope to limit the explosive Griffin.
For the third consecutive season, Griffin's scoring numbers have dropped (from 22.5 points per game as a rookie to 18.0 in 2012-13). But no one is complaining in Los Angeles. Thanks to L.A.'s supporting cast and the increase of garbage time afforded by their dominant performances, the 23-year-old has seen his minutes cut from 38.0 to just 32.5 over the same time frame.
Griffin continues his transformation from walking highlight reel to well-rounded interior force. He's upped his per-36-minute assists to a new career high (3.7) and he's corralling a per-36-minute 10.0 rebounds per game. And he's saved his best play for late, averaging 20.7 points and 9.3 rebounds during the team's six-game winning streak.
Oh, and those highlight plays haven't stopped either, including this beauty from the last time these two teams squared off.
As for Boozer, he continues to be an enigma for Bulls fans. With $32.1 million still owed to the former Duke star for the next seasons, he's clearly the worst contract on Chicago's books. But he might be too good for this club to use their amnesty clause on him.
His scoring has dropped to its lowest mark since he moved to the Windy City (13.9 points per game), but he's rebounding better than he ever has in a Bulls uniform (9.7 per game). Not to mention the fact that Taj Gibson's up-and-down play has put a dent into what's already a thin reserve frontcourt.
The athleticism mismatch could make this pairing a runaway win for Griffin. But don't discount the veteran savvy of Boozer. He may not be the player he once was, but he knows where he's most effective and how to find his way to those spots.
Chris Paul, PG, Clippers
Like Griffin, Paul's scoring numbers have dropped this season to just 16.1 points per game. But again, that's due to the fact that this Clippers squad may be the best team that Paul has ever been a part of.
With Rose sidelined and possibly Hinrich out as well, the defensive assignment on Curry may fall on the shoulders of Nate Robinson. Robinson's a gritty, physical player, but he can't match the basketball IQ nor the decision-making of Paul.
With shooters flanking him on the perimeter and capable finishers waiting for his lobs, Paul has once again staked his claim for the best point guard in the NBA. He has slick handles, quick changes of direction and an unstoppable mid-range jumper.
And on nights when his offense fails him (or simply isn't needed), Paul is the kind of pesky defender that gives opponents fits. He's once again leading the league in steals (2.7 per game), clogging up passing lanes, beating his man to the ball or providing timely help defense.
Luol Deng, SF, Bulls
Once Bulls fans finally accepted that Deng would never develop into a superstar, he started playing like one.
His 2012-13 season has seen the former Duke star tally his most points per game in since 2006-07 (18.3 per game). He's set a new career high in minutes (41.2, most in the NBA), matched another in assists (2.9) and nearly set one in rebounding (7.1).
Truth be told, Deng's best suited for the sidekick role he'll once again adopt whenever Rose makes his way back to the NBA hardwood. In the meantime, though, he'll continue his best superstar impression on both ends of the floor.
Jamal Crawford, SG, Clippers
With Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill both sidelined indefinitely, Crawford has once again assumed the role of instant offense for the Clippers perimeter.
Despite not starting a single game in the 2012-13 season, he's poured in the second most points on the team (17.9).
With the handles to blow by defenders and a perimeter stroke (38.7 three-point percentage) defenses have to respect, Crawford is the ultimate mismatch. There's no sound way for defenses to approach him.
His light is always green and the result is usually good, so coach Vinny Del Negro can live with his defensive limitations.
Marco Belinelli, SG, Bulls
Thanks to injuries to both Hinrich and Richard Hamilton, Belinelli has transitioned from Thibodeau's dog house to his starting lineup.
And the five-year veteran has no plans of relinquishing his new-found minutes.
With 20.3 points per game over his past three outings, Belinelli has provided the badly needed offensive spark to this Bulls backcourt. His 39.6 three-point percentage brings a missing element to Chicago's offensive attack.
When the Bulls get healthier, Belinelli's future role may on the team may get cloudy. For now, though, he's stating his case for a lengthy stay in Thibodeau's rotation.
Clippers 104, Bulls 97
The Bulls' recent surge has been the kind of effort this team needs to exert without Rose, but it may not be enough to hold off this vaunted Clippers attack.
The Clippers will have too much offense, too much athleticism and too much depth for this Bulls team to keep pace in what should be an exciting matchup between two playoff teams.
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