Continuity: so hot right now. It's become a buzzword in the NBA in the last few years as teams like the Grizzlies and the Spurs have made it to the Conference Finals and beyond, repeatedly and without the help of your traditional brand of superstar. It's also the key difference between the Warriors and the Bulls, who face off tonight at Oracle.
At the beginning of the season, the Warriors and Bulls were both seen to be in contention to reach at least their respective Conference Finals, but while the Warriors have continued to excel, the Bulls have stalled recently, only winning 4 of their last 11. Why have the Warriors been able to sustain success all the way to the halfway point of the season while the Bulls have been up and down? That's right, continuity.
On paper, the Bulls had a better offseason than the Warriors; they acquired Pau Gasol, brought Nikola Mirotic over from Europe, and had the return of former MVP Derrick Rose. However, integrating these players has been more difficult than expected, even though a few of them are outperforming expectations. Gasol is proving that he had given up on the Lakers after literally being traded by them, and Mirotic has been the most deadly Bull in the pick and roll situation with Rose. Even though Joakim Noah has been struggling with injuries, he was the Defensive Player of the Year last year. And just now do I get to Taj Gibson! Is it possible that the Bulls have too many good frontcourt players? Maybe not come playoffs, but that's only if Tom Thibodeau sorts out what his most successful lineups are.
On the flip side, the Warriors know which lineups work. And, wow, do those lineups work well. By trumping player development over offseason moves, the Warriors have been able to win enough to start games with two former All-Stars on the bench. Not only are the Warriors better than the Bulls right now, but they are also set up to be better than them for the foreseeable future.
The Warriors' versatility spurred their win over Chicago when they played each other earlier this season, as Draymond Green had 31 points, including 7 made three pointers on 13 attempts. Frequently, Noah left him open on pick and pops, and Green made the Bulls pay. Perhaps tonight's game would be an opportunity for Thibodeau to give Mirotic some more playing time and see if he has the mobility to contain Green.
While the frountcourt battle is intriguing due to Chicago's collection of bigs, the marquee match ups are, as they often are with the Warriors, the guard spots. Stephen Curry is putting up numbers this season that rival those that Rose had during his MVP year, and, while both players are different, they give similar production at their best. Since Rose has not been at his best for some time, and since Curry has improved defensively this season, the matchup seems to favor Curry. However, the Bulls always scheme him well defensively so scoring will be hard to come by for Curry for the second game in a row.
At the off-guard position, Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler have been mirror images this season. They've both gone from three-and-D guys to players that create their own shots and are capable of having the offense run through them. They are likely All-Stars and contenders for the Most Improved Player award. Thompson won the battle the last time the teams played; he had 24 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and was a game-high +25. Oh yeah, and he happens to be on a tear right now. This game is just another chance for Thompson to assert himself as one of the premier shooting guards in the league. And one more fun note for Warriors fans: we have Thompson signed to an extension, but the Bulls decided to wait on extending Butler. This is just another example of the Warriors investing in their current squad in the offseason.
Despite their differences in team-building principles and recent form, the Warriors and Bulls still may meet again in the NBA Finals. The Warriors currently have the best record in the league, and the Bulls have a surplus of talent and a coach that has a history of getting his team to tough out wins. Tonight, the Warriors can improve on their earlier result against Chicago and extend their home winning streak to 20.