The New York Knicks failed in their last outing against the Phoenix Suns. But don't be too hard on them; they had a nine-game winning streak going into that contest.
This is now a playoff team, and have at least a remote chance to make it to the upper half of the Eastern Conference standings. Whatever happens, it's been a remarkable showing in Tom Thibodeau's first season.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Bulls are scratching and clawing their way for an opportunity to play themselves into the playoff lineup. Billy Donovan is in his first year with this franchise as well, and his Bulls have already out-performed what they did last year.
The Knicks and the Bulls meet up at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, with game time at 7:40 PM ET. We are cashing our NBA ticket and we're going to explain ourselves.
Here is the setup;:
Chicago Bulls at New York Knicks Best Bet
Bulls vs. Knicks Betting Stats
Tip-off: 7:40 PM ET (Wednesday)
NBA Betting Odds: Knicks -5 / Total 207.5
The Knicks, at 34-28 (39-22-1 ATS), are tied for fourth place in the East (with Atlanta), but a losing streak could easily bring them down to #7 or even #8. That would put them in a rough spot because the seventh and eighth seeds have to participate in a four-team play-in "tournament" to determine the final #7 and #8 slots.
The Bulls (26-35 SU, 32-28-1 ATS) are the 11th team in the East, one game behind tenth-place Washington. They have to get to #10 at the very least to be eligible for the play-in. And Toronto is just a half-game behind them. So it's tight.
Even after the loss to Phoenix, the Knicks are 21-11 at home. And Thibodeau, whose first head coaching job was with the Bulls, deserves the coach of the year award for the way he's changed the culture. Things are going to be tough for New York the rest of the way, as they face Denver, Phoenix again, the Lakers and Clippers as well as Boston among their remaining games. So this is crucial for them.
After losing five games in a row, the Bulls have won four out of six, and split two games with the Heat in Miami. On Monday they beat the Heat 110-102, and the big men were dominant. Nikola Vucevic, who played in the NBA All-Star Game and came to Chicago from Orlando, had 24 points and eleven rebounds, while Daniel Theis had 23 points with 12 boards.
It's important to note that the Bulls are without Zach LaVine, who has now spent 14 days in a quarantine as he's sat out due to the NBA's COVID protocols. The All-Star guard is not available for Wednesday night.
There are a few things that have happened for this team since LaVine has been out. One is that they have been able to step things up on defense, standing tenth in the NBA in Defensive Rating in the seven games in which he's had to sit. Also, Vucevic has averaged 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds without LaVine. And ball distribution has increased, as Chicago has scored 72.5% of its field goals as a result of an assist. That's the highest figure in the NBA during that time.
So are they better as a team? More difficult to defend? That's hard to say, because while they may have a more balanced offense, they have fewer genuine scoring options, and LaVine has averaged 27.5 points a game. So there's a lot of slack to pick up.
The Knicks won three overtime games in their nine-game streak, and they remain tops in the NBA in terms of the defensive categories of three-point percentage (33.8%) and overall field goal percentage (44.3%). So they can take away certain ways to score. They slow down the game better than anybody, and Chicago probably has less of a chance to force a tempo without LaVine.
That's a key reason we'll move with the Knicks on this one.
The Play: NEW YORK -5