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Preview: Bulls at Celtics

12.03.10 at 11:18 am ET
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Kevin Garnett and Joakim Noah renew their rivalry tonight (AP).

Kevin Garnett and Joakim Noah renew their rivalry tonight (AP).

In due time the Chicago Bulls may very well emerge as one of the prime contenders in the Eastern Conference. All of the pieces are there to matchup with the Celtics, Magic (and yes) the Heat.

At 9-7, the Bulls record doesn’t leap off the page, but consider they recently completed a seven-game road trip (known locally as the circus trip) and although they have gone 4-4 in their last eight games, their losses have come against the Spurs, Nuggets, Lakers and Magic.

They’re not there yet though. Carlos Boozer played his first game of the season Wednesday night and had just five points and two rebounds in 22 minutes. Once he gets acclimated, the Bulls will really begin to shape. One problem that has not been fixed yet, however, is their lack of 3-point shooting beyond Kyle Korver.

The Bulls rank 28th in overall makes from behind the arc and are 24th in accuracy, shooting just 33 percent. Luol Deng is shooting an almost-respectable 35 percent, and Derrick Rose is next at 34 percent. That’s actually a marked improvement from the point guard who is under 30 percent for his career.

Despite their troubles from long-range, the Bulls do many things well and they have all the elements to become an elite defensive team. But it’s hard to break through and become a true contender with such an obvious weakness.

bulls_logoBULLS (9-7, 6-4 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 99.0 (14th)

Defensive Rating: 103.8 (9th)

Pace: 93.5 (12th)

Likely Starters: Derrick Rose, Keith Bogans, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah

Injuries: None.

celtics_logoCELTICS (14-4, 8-2 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 109.2 (9th)

Defensive Rating: 100.8 (2nd)

Pace: 90.7 (23rd)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Nate Robinson (Heel, questionable), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out), Delonte West (wrist, out).

KEY MATCHUP: Derrick Rose vs. Rajon Rondo

In the great point guard debate there are few more intriguing matchups than Rondo vs. Rose because they are almost complete opposites in terms of what they do for their respective teams. Rose has taken 321 shots, 70 more than Deng and far and away the most on the team. Rondo has taken 148, less than Glen Davis, and fifth overall.

Rondo attacks via the pass, while Rose attacks the basket, but both are almost impossible to keep out of the paint. When they met two seasons ago in the playoffs, Rondo noted that his counterpart was bigger and stronger than he realized. He told the Dale & Holley show (listen to the interview here) that he has gained 28 pounds of muscle since entering the league. The other element of this matchup that shouldn’t be ignored is that both players are in the East and stand head and shoulders above their respective conference peers.

Their first meeting was essentially a draw up until the final play of regulation. Rose scored 18 points and had nine assists, while Rondo had 10 and 11, but with the game tied and the Bulls in possession, Rose waived off a screen and elected to go one-on-one. Rondo was up to the challenge, forcing a turnover and pushing the game to overtime, where the Celtics ultimately prevailed.

KEY NUMBER: Bench production

Add Nate Robinson to the list of walking wounded for the Celtics. He played only four minutes Wednesday and said he has been dealing with pain in his foot since the Celtics played Atlanta a week and a half ago. The injuries that have affected the Celtics are mostly to their bench, which has robbed them of their depth and the pressure is now on Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels to carry the second unit.

This is a serious problem for the Celtics as the games and minutes begin to mount. Doc Rivers has not yet played Von Wafer, Avery Bradley or Luke Harangody in important stretches of games, but he may have to soon.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The Bulls returned home for their first game in Chicago in over two weeks and got blasted by Orlando, 107-78. They should be appropriately fired up to play the Celtics tonight. Joakim Noah and Kevin Garnett need no further encouragement to get up for this one and Rondo and Rose are worth the price of admission themselves.

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