In both teams' first game since the 2013 NBA All-Star break, the 30-22 Chicago Bulls will travel to play the 19-34 New Orleans Hornets. Each squad will be looking to begin its push for the postseason with a victory.
The question is, which team will win?
The Bulls are 15-10 on the road for the season, which suggests that going into enemy territory will leave them unfazed. The Hornets, meanwhile, are 9-15 at home.
With that being said, Chicago is 7-12 against the Western Conference. In other words, we could be in store for a closer battle than we'd previously presumed.
So how is it all going down?
Time: Tuesday, Feb. 19, at 8 p.m. ET
TV: CSCP & Fox Sports New Orleans
Records: Chicago Bulls (30-22) at New Orleans Hornets (19-34)
Betting Line: Chicago Bulls (-1.5) as of Feb. 18 at 5:56 p.m. ET
Key Storyline: Moving In Different Directions
Entering this game, the Chicago Bulls are 30-22 and 15-10 on the road. The New Orleans Hornets are 19-34 and 9-15 at home.
Even still, the Hornets have the advantage of momentum.
The question is, did the All-Star break cool down the red-hot Hornets? Furthermore, has the much-needed rest warmed up the ice-cold Bulls?
Whichever team benefited most from All-Star weekend will be the victor in this one.
Key Matchup: Robin Lopez vs. Joakim Noah
When Robin Lopez and Joakim Noah go to battle, we will see an All-Star and the brother of an All-Star. Despite his already-impressive scoring and shot-blocking prowess, we'll need to see Lopez play like his twin for New Orleans to win this one.
It all starts on the glass.
Noah is one of the most active players in the NBA. With a non-stop motor and an undying will to succeed, Noah makes life unpleasant for any player he's facing.
If Lopez does not improve his work on the boards, he'll see just how dominant Noah can be.
Noah will work the offensive glass and create second-chance scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. With Chicago known as an elite defensive unit, this means Lopez will be tasked with making sure Chicago doesn't run away with multiple scoring opportunities.
The pressure is on Lopez to impose his will along the interior.
X-Factor: Eric Gordon's Hand
According to Joe Gerrity of Hornets247.com, Eric Gordon had a negative MRI on his injured hand. Even still, Gordon was forced to miss the New Orleans Hornets' final game before the All-Star break.
If Gordon has fully recovered, he could be the deciding player in this one. If not, we could witness yet another game in which the term "growing pain" is applicable.
So what could a healthy Gordon do?
Thus far in 2012-13, Gordon is averaging 16.4 points and 29.5 minutes per game. He's also shooting a career-worst 40.3 percent from the field.
With that being said, Gordon dropped 27 points on 10-of-19 shooting on Feb. 8. In other words, the talent is still there.
Matched up against suspect defenders in Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli, Gordon will have the opportunity to exploit his positional advantage. The question is, will his hand allow him to dominate as his talent suggests?
If so, Chicago will be in for a long night on defense.
When the Chicago Bulls travel to play the New Orleans Hornets, the common theory is that we will witness a blowout. The truth of the matter is, we are more likely to see a close game between these inter-conference foes.
Just don't expect the Bulls to lose.
Chicago's defensive pressure will keep Eric Gordon in check, while Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer will find a way to dominate the glass. This will force the New Orleans Hornets to rely upon their inconsistent perimeter and face a previously familiar fate.
With that being said, Anthony Davis has caught fire recently and the Hornets have won four of their past five. The trend of winning games will conclude, but they will put up a stiff fight.
One that ultimately falls short as Chicago makes the defensive stops down the stretch to win a close one.
Chicago Bulls 92, New Orleans Hornets 86