What's changed for the Bulls since late December, when the Mavs drilled them in Chicago?
The easy answer is the rise of D.J. Augustin. When the Bulls and Mavs last played, it was only Augustin's eighth game with the team. He started to hit his stride in January, averaging 16.1 points and six assists on 42.8 percent shooting. Those might not seem like the type of numbers that would turn a team's season around, but it's important to note what he was replacing. Kirk Hinrich was particularly horrible in the early going of the season, shooting 27 percent from the field in December. Marquis Teague was getting minutes too and could barely keep his PER out of the red.
The other thing is health. Jimmy Butler was in and out of the lineup in November and December, and when he was playing, it was evident his turf toe was bothering him. The Bulls have been lucky enough to have a clean bill of health as of late -- at least if you're forcibly forgetting that Derrick Rose is part of the team.
As a defensive-oriented team that struggles to score, Chicago is kind of a mirror opposite of Dallas. All things equal, do they match-up better with bad offenses or bad defenses?
That's an interesting question I'm not sure there's a correct answer to, but I'll say the Bulls match up better with bad offenses. Tom Thibodeau's defense is remarkably consistent, but the old axiom is that good offense beats good defense when it matters in basketball. We saw the Bulls go stone cold against the Heat on Sunday, and no matter how good a team's defense is, it's not going to be able to cover up an offense scoring 12 points in a quarter against a team as good as Miami. And that was even without LeBron playing.
It's no secret that the Mavs interior D isn't great. What's their best plan of attack to slow down Boozer, Gibson and Noah?
I suppose the thing to do is keep the Bulls off the glass. Chicago misses a ton of shots, but Noah, Gibson and Boozer are good at cleaning them up. The Bulls are tied for sixth in the league in offensive rebounding, which they've always used to their strength against teams with weak frontlines. It's best to give 'em a little room to shoot, too. Noah will take that tornado jumper if you taunt him with, and that shot isn't as reliable as he thinks it is. Taj has been better both in the post and on jumpers this season, but there will definitely be nights when he's not feeling it. Boozer just looooves shooting outside shots and not taking it to the rack, so there won't be much coaxing needed for him.
How good a player is Joakim Noah? Looking back on it, was he more valuable to the Bulls than Derrick Rose?
Noah's the best. I wrote about it on Monday and it feels like I write about it at least once or twice a month. This team would be nothing without him, both competitively and aesthetically. He's lapping the field in assists this season compared to other centers; he even had 13 in one game last week against the Raptors.
Was he more valuable than Rose? Man. Rose means -- or meant, if you ask a lot of people -- so much to the city that it's hard to say. It isn't hard to make the case for Noah as being more valuable than Rose, though, just because it's so much harder to find a solid two-way center. That's what Noah has become over the last two seasons in Rose's absence, and it's been enough to make the Bulls competitive in the East even without their former MVP.