With the 2016 NBA All-Star break arriving on Friday, every team wants to exit the first half of the year on a high note. Only one team can do that tonight in the battle at the United Center between the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls. Both teams are reeling with two and three-game losing streaks and both would love to enter the weekend with a win. Let’s see who has the edge when the two face off tonight:
The Bulls and Hawks have a pretty lengthy history as mild rivals out of the Eastern Conference, having met 228 times during the regular season and another 22 times in the playoffs. Chicago holds a 12-10 advantage in post-season play, as well as a 123-105 edge in the regular season. The Hawks took a shootout (120-105) earlier this year in Atlanta, and also won the season series (2-1) last year. In the long view, however, the Bulls have dominated this series over the past several years, winning 12 of the last 18 meetings in regular season play. Chicago has taken care of business usually when the meeting happens at the United Center, posting a strong 8-2 mark in their last 10 home battles with ATL.
Atlanta hits the road with a pretty pedestrian record (13-15) away from home, which could be bad news against a strong Bulls team that has been good on their home floor. Atlanta has disappointed this year, as they haven’t been able to recapture the magic from their 60-win season of a year ago. They’ve regressed across the board, but specifically have struggled defensively compared to where they were last season. Kyle Korver has slowly regained his old form, however, and despite two straight losses to the Magic recently, the Hawks still sit in the driver’s seat to claim first place in the Southeast Division. The gap between them and the Miami Heat is razor thin, however, making tonight’s contest in Chicago bigger than most regular season games. That being said, the Hawks could be in a lull due to ongoing trade rumors. Jeff Teague and Al Horford have been talked about openly on the trading block and with potential changes coming, Atlanta could be having a difficult time keeping their focus.
Bulls Preview (+3.5)
Derrick Rose returns from a one-game absence to try to help the Bulls close out the first half of the year successfully, and with Jimmy Butler out he’ll shoulder a lot of the scoring and creating on offense. Pau Gasol will be a big source of offense, too, but the Bulls could be in a bad spot without their top scorer and defender. Already down Joakim Noah and Nikola Mirotic, the Bulls don’t have much room for error in this one – even at home. The Bulls have been quite good at the United Center (16-9) and have been very balanced with 101 points per game on offense and 101 points allowed defensively. They don’t have the same defensive bite of past Chicago teams, so it could be the offense they lean on tonight to try to snap their current skid.
Normally the easy straight up pick would be Chicago, but Jimmy Butler is out with a knee ailment and the Bulls are simply reeling. Losers of 7 of their last 10, Chicago lacks the defensive ability and overall depth to take opponents down as they should. A healthy Derrick Rose is the silver lining, but he’s going to have to do too much heavy lifting to get the job done – and even a big game out of him may not be enough.
Neither team looks like the obvious call here. Atlanta has struggled ATS lately on the road (2-5 ATS in last 7 road games) and as noted previously, they’re very average away from home, overall. The Bulls aren’t much more impressive, going just 1-6 ATS overall in their last seven contests. Atlanta is also just 1-6 ATS in their last seven meetings at the United Center.