Chicago Bulls (28-18) vs. Atlanta Hawks (26-19)
The Bulls are masters of surviving injuries. At least for this year.
Chicago is playing without Derrick Rose and in the thick of the Eastern Conference race. The Bulls went even further last night, losing by four on the road to the Nets with three starters -- Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Derrick Rose -- out. Luol Deng is still capable of carrying a roster. At least against middling competition.
The Hawks might very well be in that category.
Al Horford and Josh Smith are still very capable of winning games in the middle of the East. Atlanta might be in the throes of trying to trade Smith as the team tries to rebuild its organization on the fly. This is still a good team with Jeff Teague and Horford as the fulcrums.
But you still have Smith, a matchup nightmare even for the relatively bulky Bulls.
That is what should make this game that much more interesting. Both Atlanta and Chicago will play defense and that always gives them a chance to win games. The score might be low, but the Hawks and Bulls still have lots to fight for and play for despite all the problems the roster seems to have.
Other Storylines to Watch
-Jannero Pargo got a second 10-day contract. He is a player that will not quite go away. He has averaged 5.2 points per game 16 minutes per game in five games for Atlanta. Pargo is a sharpshooter and he has always found a home in the NBA. Pargo certainly is feeling like home in Atlanta so far.
-While Josh Smith is seemingly at the forefront of trade talks, there is still the chance Atlanta decides to give him the max offer he thinks he is worth. There is still a lot to work through in the trade market. There are still several teams going hard after him including reportedly the Suns, the Mavericks and the Bobcats.
Tonight's Other Games
Sacramento Kings (17-31) vs. New York Knicks (29-15)
Before Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins seemed to be the biggest star that would get traded at the deadline. It felt like the Kings were getting ready to blow everything up and firesale the team. Then, of course, the Maloofs tried to actually sell the team. Now it seems Cousins trade rumors have been put on the back burner. Teams are hearing that Cousins is off limits while the team goes through its sale.
Oklahoma City Thunder (35-11) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (13-34)
Kyrie Irving versus Russell Westbrook? Yes, please! Westbrook's last outing was not without controversy though. He stormed off the bench and into the tunnel after an apparent miscommunication with Thabo Sefolosha. That led to speculation of Oklahoma City splitting at the seams -- like they always do. This is probably much ado about nothing. And this game will likely show that.
Charlotte Bobcats (11-34) vs. Houston Rockets (25-23)
Kemba Walker has turned in a fantastic sophomore season helping the Bobcats improve dramatically from last season's debacle. There is no reason to be upset with his play even though Charlotte is still struggling. Rome was not built in a day. Neither is Walker's development. Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap is pleased with what he has seen from Walker, but wants to see him pattern his game after distributors like Tony Parker.
New Orleans Hornets (15-32) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-26)
A rare home back-to-back for Minnesota. There is just one complaint. Ryan Anderson is creeped out by his hotel in Minneapolis. There are some nice hotels in downtown Minneapolis and it is not like the haunted hotel in Oklahoma City. Oh well, just have one night to play and get out, Ryan.
Orlando Magic (14-32) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (24-21)
The hits keep coming for the Magic with Jameer Nelson bruising his forearm in the second quarter of Friday's game. Orlando has already lost Glen Davis for the season and have had to deal with tons of injuries. Worst yet, Milwaukee will be wearing its 1990s throwbacks and Orlando struggled to beat George Karl's Bucks for a long time.
Washington Wizards (11-34) vs. San Antonio Spurs (37-11)
Bradley Beal has turned in a strong rookie season after a slow start. But a series of injuries are keeping him out of the lineup. Beal's latest injury is to his hand and he said he is taking his time coming back. The Wizards need him back in the lineup to continue the little hot spurt they were on. But even that might be asking too much against the Spurs.
Utah Jazz (26-21) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (22-23)
Al Jefferson was another name often bandied about during trade discussions. It seemed like Utah needed to move one of its big post players to make room for Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. That logic appears to be changing as many expect Jefferson to stay put in Salt Lake City as Utah fights for Playoff positioning.
Phoenix Suns (16-31) vs. Golden State Warriors (29-17)
Marcin Gortat could quietly be on the move out of Phoenix. Gortat received his current contract while still a backup in Orlando. Since then he has emerged as a solid starter for Phoenix after Orlando traded him there. Now with two years remaining on his contract and the Suns thinking about going much younger, Gortat could help a Playoff team in need of center depth.