Division Leaders Battle in Chicago: Celtics vs Bulls

Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls
United Center – Chicago, Illinois
Thursday, April 5, 2012, 9:35 pm Eastern, TV: TNT
Opening Line: Chicago -7 1/2
Current Line: Chicago -7
Opening Total: 176 1/2
Current Total: 177
Opening Money Line: Bulls -325 / Celtics +275
Current Money Line: Bulls -300 / Celtics +250

The Bulls and Celtics meet in a key Eastern Conference match-up Thursday night. The Bulls are 7 point home favorites.

The Chicago Bulls, coached by Tom Thibodeau, have the best record in the league with a 42-13 record. This is despite playing without their best player, last year’s NBA MVP, point guard Derrick Rose. Rose has missed 11 games in a row with a groin injury that is preventing him from running. He practiced on Wednesday for the first time since the injury, but is a game time decision Thursday night against the Celtics in a key Eastern Conference match-up and potential playoff preview. The Bulls have lost two games in a row, including a 99-93 home loss to Houston Monday night. It was the first time Chicago had lost back to back games in the regular season in 86 games, a stretch that dates back to last season. Chicago guard Richard Hamilton returned in the Houston game from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 14 games.

The 30-23 Celtics, coached by Doc Rivers, are in first place in the Atlantic Division, a game and a half up on second place Philadelphia. The Celtics are currently the #4 seed in the East, and would play Orlando in the first round. The Celtics lost last night at home to San Antonio 87-86 to snap a 5 game winning streak for Boston.

Chicago leads the series against Boston 2-1 this year. The Bulls won in Boston 88-79 January 13. Boston won at home February 12 95-91, and Chicago won at home 4 days later 89-80. Rose missed the last two games with an injury.

Boston is outscoring opponents 92-90 this season. The Celtics are #3 in points allowed in the NBA. Boston is shooting 45.8% from the field and 36% from 3 point range. The Celtics make 77.7% from the free throw line. Boston is in the top 10 in the league in all three shooting categories. Boston is last in the league in rebounding averaging just 38.6 a game with a rebounding margin of -4.9. The Celtics average 23.5 assists, 14.8 turnovers, 7.3 steals, and 5.6 blocks a game. Boston is second in the league in assists. Celtic opponents are shooting 42% from the field and 30.1% from 3 point range. The Celtics lead the lead in both categories. Boston forces 15.6 turnovers a game.

Paul Pierce averages 19 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.2 steals a game. Kevin Garnett averages 15.6 points, 8.2 rebounds to lead the team, 3 assists, and 1.1 blocks a game. Ray Allen averages 14.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.1 steals a game. Rajon Rondo averages 12.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 11 assists, and 1.8 steals a game. He is second in the league in assists, and leads the Celtics in steals. Forward Brandon Bass averages 12.2 points, and 6 rebounds a game. Small forward Mickael Pietrus is out indefinitely with a concussion. Center Jermaine O’Neal leads the Celtics in blocks with 1.7 a game, but he is out indefinitely with a wrist injury.

Chicago is outscoring opponents 97-89 this season. The Bulls are 2nd in points allowed in the NBA. Chicago is shooting 45.5% from the field and 37.8% from 3 point range. The Bulls are in the top ten in the league in both categories.  The Bulls make 72.2% of their free throws. Chicago leads the league in rebounding averaging 46.1 a game with a rebounding margin of +6.1. The Bulls average 23 assists, 14 turnovers, 7.1 steals, and 5.8 blocks a game. Chicago is 4th in the league in assists.  Chicago opponents are shooting 42.8% from the field and 33.2% from 3 point range. The Bulls are in the top 7 in the league in all defensive categories. Chicago forces 13.4 turnovers a game.

Rose averages 22.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 8 assists a game. He leads the Bulls in scoring and assists. Forward Carlos Boozer averages 15.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1 steal a game.   Forward Luol Deng averages 15.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1 steal a game. Hamilton averages 11 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 3.1 assists. C.J. Watson averages 10.1 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 3.8 assists a game. Joakim Noah averages 9.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.4 blocks a game. Noah leads the Bulls in rebounds and blocks. Ronnie Brewer leads the Bulls in steals with 1.1 a game.

Chicago is 32-23 ATS and the total is 28-26-1 this season. Boston is 26-26-1 ATS and the total is 22-28-3 this season. The favorite and home team are both 5-1 ATS in this series recently. The Bulls are 4-1 ATS, including 4-0 at home against the Celtics. Four of the last five have gone under the total in the series. The Celtics are 5-0-1 ATS overall, 5-1 against Eastern Conference teams, 4-1 after a straight up loss, and on the road, 3-1-1 against teams with winning records, 7-20 in back to backs, 2-6 as a road underdog of 5-10.5 points, and 1-5 against Central division teams. The Bulls are 6-1 ATS in Eastern Conference games, 10-3 in Thursday games, 5-2 on two days rest, 35-15-1 after a straight up win, 7-3 after failing to cover, 9-4 against teams with winning records, 2-5 as a home favorite, and 1-4 as a favorite of 5-10.5 points, including 0-4 at home.

These two teams are built on defense, and usually play hard fought low scoring games. I don’t expect that to change tonight even if Rose returns. Chicago leads the league in rebounding, and Boston is last in rebounding. I think Chicago wins at home but Boston keeps it close.

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