Friday, March 11

Game Night: Chi-lite

Andres Nocioni of the Chicago Bulls

The 3-game skid. Not unlike movie sequels, the third of three is always the worst (or did you think Back to the Future 3, Revenge of the Jedi, and Aliens3 were the climax of those respective series?).

Well, the Sonics are on the brink of losing three in a row, and the Chicago Bulls have enough firepower and we-don’t-know-why-we’re-winning-but-who-cares uncertainty to put a scare into even the most loyal of Seattle hoop fans.

The Bulls are a weird team to figure out. They don’t have a go-to guy, unless you count Ben Gordon, but if he’s their man, why’s he averaging less than 25 minutes a game since the All-Star break? Eddy Curry has emerged recently has an above-average center when it comes to scoring points, but he’s led the team in rebounding all of two times since the first of January. Yet, the Bulls are 31-18 since starting the season 0-9, and that means they’re definitely in the “Be Careful” category for the Sonics.

If you’re going to the game tonight, or if, like me, you’re stuck at home, here’s a quick look at some of the key players on the Bulls:

Andres Nocioni – Never heard of him? Neither had I. A 6’7” small forward, Nocioni has started the past four games since Luol Deng went down with an injury. He’s played well in that time, averaging 12/8 and logging some solid minutes. He began the year taking alot more 3’s, but since then he’s gone more to shorter jump shots and taken the ball into the lane, with improved results.

Eddy Curry – Chicago’s resident Center-of-the-Future, Curry has come on as the season has progressed, showing signs of brilliance and, more often, ineptitude. He’s equally capable of scoring 25 with 8 boards against the Blazers as he did on Wednesday, or 9 points with no rebounds, like his effort against the Spurs a week ago. Can he hurt the Sonics? Definitely.

Kirk Hinrich –Hinrich’s not a bad shooter, witness his near 40% mark from 3-point land in January, but he’s not a great decision-maker on what shots are best. Face it, a guard shouldn’t shoot below 40% from the field for the year, unless every shot is beyond the arc. Nonetheless, he gets his points and is the best player on this team now that Deng’s out. At 6’3” and 190 he’s not going to overpower anybody, but he’s absolutely capable of schooling young Luke. With AD questionable for tonight’s game, the Sonics could have trouble stopping him.

Othella Harrington – The Big Fella has always been a puzzle to his followers. I loved the guy when he played in Vancouver for his ability to get his points and boards on a consistent basis – and moreso for his skewering of the locals (when asked why he didn’t like Vancouver, Harrington replied, “Cuz it’s always raining, man.”). A strong presence down low, Harrington could have some fun matches with Fortson tonight. The Bulls play better when he’s on the court, much the same way the Sonics did earlier in the year when Fortson was able to provide offense and some punch off the bench.

All that said, this is a crucial game – in my mind – for the Sonics. 7 of their next 11 are on the road, with most of those 11 against playoff teams. A loss tonight could push the team into a tailspin – the last thing they need as the playoffs near. Fortunately, if the Sonics have shown one ability above all others this year, it’s resiliency. Whether via injuries or a doubting public, Nate’s crew has shown repeatedly that they are a legitimate contender. I’m guessing they’ll show us again tonight.

Spread: Sonics by 7 ½
Prediction: Sonics 102 – Bulls 90
Record Against the Spread: 15-12

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