Every time the Hawks square off with the Chicago Bulls, no matter the venue, things are dicey from an Atlanta perspective. For reference, the Bulls have 9 out of the last 11 overall in the series, and with four straight wins over the Hawks (including 3 in double-digits with a 39-point demolition), no one loves to see Chicago on the other end of the floor. Still, Atlanta is coming off of an encouraging comeback win against New York on Saturday night, and with two full days after rest, Mike Budenholzer should have the undermanned roster ready to go.
Paul Millsap has already been ruled out for both Tuesday and Wednesday (in Boston) as a result of the knee contusion that saw him miss the New York game on Saturday, and his absence is a huge blow. The offense was able to prosper without him against New York, but that was likely a result of the Knicks horrid defense rather than any long-term sustainability sans Millsap. In addition, Coach Bud was able to deploy a lot of "small ball" lineups because the Knicks were playing Carmelo Anthony at the power forward spot, and there will be no such ability against the mauling Bulls.
The Hawks will be, once again, relying heavily on Elton Brand and Mike Scott in this game, and it's a tall task against Chicago. Joakim Noah is one of the best in the league at the center position, and with the Carlos Boozer-Taj Gibson combination at power forward, it'll be highly difficult to go small, almost assuring that we will saw the Atlanta debut from recent 10-day signing Dexter Pittman. The Bulls are 3rd in the NBA in rebound rate (52.2%), and that is one of the major areas of concern with the undermanned frontcourt, especially given that Atlanta is already 25th in the league and playing without a major asset.
On the perimeter, things are a bit brighter against the Bulls. Chicago's best perimeter player, Jimmy Butler, is questionable for the game after missing their last outing with a rib bruise, and without him, the Bulls are using some rotation of Kirk Hinrich, Tony Snell, D.J. Augustin, and Mike Dunleavy. Augustin and Dunleavy both provided sparks in the last meeting between these two teams, but with a (relatively) healthy compliment of perimeter players for Atlanta, it is (at worst) a small advantage.
Playing without Paul Millsap is a unique challenge to this current roster, and while they were able to navigate the waters to a victory against New York, this is a different beast. Chicago sports the 2nd-best defense in the NBA this season (even without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng), and points would have been at a premium even if Atlanta was at full-strength. It may take another herculean performance from an individual player (i.e. Mike Scott on Saturday), but for the Hawks to prevail, all parties will have to be involved in an across-the-board effort.
Game Date/Time: Tuesday, February 25, 7:30 p.m.
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta Georgia
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM