Chicago Bulls @ New York Knicks
Both of these teams have exceeded expectations a little over a quarter into the season. These two teams attempt to attack the opposition in different ways. Mike D’Antoni’s Knicks try to play up tempo and outscore you. Whereas, Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls prefer to play solid defense and then attack the opposition in the half court. Something has to give in this one, the Knicks currently rank second in points per game at 108.1. The Bulls rank eighth in opponents points per game at 95.0.
Look for the Knicks to try to exploit the Bulls interior defense without Joakim Noah out (thumb surgery). They will likey feed Amare Stoudamire early and often. Although he struggled in these two teams first meeting, a 120-112 Knicks win on Nov. 4th, Stoudamire has been on fire as of late. During the Knicks 13-1 run in late November-early December, Stoudamire had an impressive streak of 9 straight 30 point games.
The Bulls have won their last 9 out of 10 games. During that span, the Bulls are beginning to look like one of the premier defensive units in the league. In their last ten games, the Bulls are allowing a stingy 87.7 points per game to their opponents.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau appears to have transformed the identity of this team.
Although the Knicks have improved drastically this year, they still have major issues on defense. I like the Bulls to control tempo in this game with their defense. The Knicks won’t be able to contain the trio of Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, and Luol Deng.
Prediction- Bulls 105 Knicks 99
Both of these teams enter this game with something to be excited about. The Celtics are undeniably the NBA’s hottest team. Their 14 game winning streak has them sitting comfortably atop the Atlantic Division at 23-4. Their stifling defense (allowing only 91.4 PPG) and unselfish play(6 players currently averaging double figures) have enabled the Celtics to maintain consistent play on both ends of the floor.
The Magic overhauled their roster after slumping mightily in the month of December(3-8). The acquisitions of Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, and Jason Richardson seemed like a desperate attempt to stay in contention with the likes of Boston and Miami. Yet, just three games into the trade the Magic appear to look like a different team. The Magic ended the Spurs 10 game win streak on Thursday night. The newly acquired tandem of Arenas, Turkoglu, and Richardson all scored in double figures. This was easily the Magic’s most impressive win of the season.
The Celtics have a knack of controlling tempo against the Magic. In last season’s Conference Finals, the Celtics held the Magic to 90.6 PPG (that was nearly 12 points fewer than their season average). The Celts are nearly unbeatable when Ray Allen is hitting his shots. Therefore Orlando will be forced to stretch their defense to try and contain Allen on the perimeter. Look for Boston to get some good looks at the basket as a result of Orlando’s defensive aggressiveness on the perimeter.
The Magic have to knock down their three-point shots. Dwight Howard commands a double team every time he touches the ball. In last year’s four losses in the conference finals, the Magic made only 26 of 92 three pointers (a lousy 28%). On defense, Jason Richardson will likely be matched up against Paul Pierce. He will need to keep Pierce on the perimeter if he wants to stay out of foul trouble. Pierce is one of the best small forwards in the league at drawing fouls.
The Celtics have looked like the best team in the league during their 14 game winning streak. The Magic looked like a title contender once again during Thursday nights win against the Spurs. The difference in this game might very well be the absence of Rajon Rondo. I expect the shots to be falling on Christmas day for the Magic. Orlando will be riding high after knocking off the top two teams in the league in back to back games.
Prediction- Magic 101 Celtics 96
Check back in later today for:
- Christmas Countdown Video
- Your NFL Picks Week 16
- NBA Christmas Day Preview Part II
- A special Christmas present