The Hawks have been tearing it up, beating the best in the West, as well as foes in the East. Recently, Atlanta defeated the Golden State Warriors, in a matchup of the top two teams in the League. Monday night they defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves with strong games from Al Horford and Paul Millsap. Horford scored 28 points, his best this season. Millsap scored 19 points and had 9 rebounds. DeMarre Carroll had 26 points, his career high. Kyle Korver had 4 three-pointers for 12 points.
Coach Mike Budenholzer has virtually wrapped up Coach of the Year Honors making the Hawks a team to take seriously in the playoffs.
The Chicago Bulls, at 32-20, were being spoke of as a top contender in the Eastern Conference, 2 to 3 weeks into the season. But Cleveland has weathered some storms, mainly the season ending injury to Andrew Varejo, their Center. The Cavs acquired Timofey Mozgov, a big man who has filled in admirably.
Since obtaining Imman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, and Mozgov, the Cavs have climbed back in the Central Division race, trailing the Bulls by a half game.
Chicago has been up and down the last 20 games since F Mike Dunleavy injured his ankle. Dunleavy could be counted on providing solid numbers on offense and his defense had improved while he did play. Other Bulls have been out as well for a few games, to more than a handful. Taj Gibson sprained his ankle. Derrick Rose had various minor injuries, and Joakim Noah, missed games as well. Still the Bulls have competed. But they’ve lost to teams that could have defeated, while beating Portland and Houston at home. Their home record of 13-11 is not that of a title contender. The team knows this. But can they find another gear in the final two months?
In their matchup against the Cavs, the Bulls have not fared well. Lebron and company have their number. The Bulls defense looks stretched thin against James, Kyrie Irving, and now, an improving Kevin Love.
Is it too much to expect more from Derrick Rose? He hasn’t played this many games in over two years. Can Gasol, having one of this best seasons in his long career, play well with Noah on defense? Can Dunleavy return healthy to the starting lineup? The Bulls have been weaker on defense this season while the offense has been fairly effective. Chicago has had off-shooting nights and when you don’t shoot well, you don’t look good.
However, after the All-Star break, the pressure will be on Chicago to live up to pre-season predictions.
Strap on your seat belts, the stretch run is about to begin.