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Bulls Thu Apr 25 2013

Bulls Face A Must-Win Game Three

Bulls_200.pngNow that the entire Bulls fan base has genuflected toward the deity that is Joakim Noah, after his miraculous performance on Monday, it's time to pray that his foot holds up and the Bulls don't commit sins such as turnovers, missed free throws, and disobeying the scripture that is Tom Thibodeau's defensive playbook. OK, maybe game three isn't of biblical proportions but the occupants of the Madhouse on Madison need to treat it as. In fact, for a team playing with house money, every game is a must win. The onus will be on the players. The crowd will smell blood in the water and act accordingly. Thibodeau is doing well in the adjustment game and the pressure to win is on Brooklyn. Tonight's game will show who wants the series more.

Taj Gibson has to limit his fouls. Seeing Nazr Mohammed make some key plays in the win on Monday was great excited-Stacey-King-fodder, but it's nothing this team can afford to depend on. Carlos Boozer is playing a solid 43 minutes a game this series and it doesn't seem to be affecting his stats, but if he gets cold, then he becomes somewhat of a liability on defense (all one has to do against Reggie Evans is box him out, not guard him.) Gibson's 4.5 fouls a game and Noah's minutes limit can spell more big games out of Brook Lopez. The fouls could be a sign of the knee injury slowing Gibson down, but when he's not fouling players, he looks good on both sides of the court.

To beat the deadest horse anyone has ever beaten, the Bulls have to be aggressive and get to the free throw line. During the regular season, the Nets' defense was below average in takeaways, ranking 18th in blocks and 19th in steals. Spreading the court and taking open jumpers hasn't really worked for the Bulls thus far, so why not take it to the rim and try to draw contact? Like, on every possession? Using basketball-reference's shot chart, Luol Deng in game one was 2-for-4 in the paint, and in game two he was 5-for-9. From the outside the free throw block, Deng is 3-for-15 for the series. He's playing a lot of minutes, but he's used to that. He's just got to pick his moments on offense. Spot up for the three, or slash to the lane and go up strong can help Deng get going.

The Bulls are not letting Nate Robinson or Marco Belinelli shoot them out of games. In fairness to the two two-guards, they've won games for the Bulls all regular season long. Thibodeau is running Robinson with Kirk Hinrich so that Robinson's poor shot selection and lack of distributing skills doesn't hinder the team on offense. Belinelli is on an even shorter leash, playing only a total of 31 minutes in both games. At some point, if the team is down, Thibodeau is going to have to roll the dice and give longer looks to these streaky, shoot-first-ask-questions-never shooting guards.

Since there is an extended stretch of time between games, every beat blogger, midday drive-time "first time caller, long time listener" and podcaster has weighed in on Derrick Rose's absence. There is plenty of culpability to divvy up on why Rose isn't on the court, but all this huffing and puffing won't get him back. All it can do is make you justly or unjustly upset. Rose, who didn't want the pressure of coming back this year less than "110 percent", has now put upon himself an absolute pressure to A) play through all injuries the next three seasons, and B) win a championship in that span or else he'll be regarded as a selfish player who can't win the big game. Englewood's finest seems up to the challenge, but I wouldn't want to be in his Adidas Crazy-Light shoes with the weight of a temperamental city bearing down on them.

This team has been battle tested in big games all year long. It's clear in this series, the Brooklyn Nets' top three players are more talented than the Bulls' top three, so to win three out of the next five games (three being at home), the squad will have to recreate efforts like the one on Monday. The big unknown is, what are the Nets made of? Are they just happy to be in the playoffs after an exhausting year, in a new stadium in the biggest market in sports? Game three, we'll know if the Bulls can win the series. If the Nets show that they want this series but still lose, the Bulls are in good shape. If the Nets beat the Bulls like in game one, then they've responded to the call of adversity, and we all can start up amnesty Boozer talk, a buyout of Nikola Mirotic, and should the team sign OJ Mayo as a place holder until Rose returns next April when he's 220 percent ready.

 
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