The Bulls (22-30) and the Grizzlies (26-25) are in the play-in limbo of their respective conferences. They’re also coming off rough losses today.
Chicago went all in on ending their playoff drought at the trade deadline, dealing for Nikola Vucevic, who maintained his consistently awesome form with averages of 22.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists for the Bulls. Zach LaVine, meanwhile, still provides more than enough reason to flip to a Bulls game, having just scored 80 points over the last two outings.
Every bucket from Zach's 50-piece.— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) April 10, 2021
18-31 FG | 7 threes | 8 rebounds | 5 assists pic.twitter.com/rAaAESXkAd
Still, outside of LaVine, Vucevic, and the always steady Thad Young, the Bulls have lacked consistency from the rest of their starting unit. They've shuffled between Coby White and Tomas Satoransky at point guard for much of the season. Patrick Williams has had his moments, especially on defense, but the rookie has been mostly up-and-down on offense. Lauri Markkanen, once considered a pivotal building block for the Bulls, has been the definition of a mixed bag all season.
In both offensive and defensive rating, the Bulls sit comfortably in the middle of the pack. The reason they've fallen to 10th in the East is them losing steam late in games. Too many times have the Bulls held a lead going into halftime or the fourth quarter only to let the game slip out of their hands.
Finishing off the Grizzlies when they get the chance will be crucial. Memphis is one the feistier teams heading into the stretch run, having won four straight games before losing their last two very close outings.
You’ve probably stumbled upon a Ja Morant highlight or two the last two weeks. The Grizzlies are still very dependent on their sophomore guard to run the show, but they've mostly been a balanced scoring team throughout the season.
Jonas Valanciunas has flown under the radar for most of the season. The Lithuanian giant has played some of the best basketball of his career, averaging 16.6 points on 56.4 percent shooting with a career-high 12.5 rebounds a game. Kyle Anderson, whose highlights aren’t as athletic as Morant's but entertaining to those who appreciate tito basketball, has also been consistently an all-around contributor amidst the many injuries that the Grizzlies have endured.
The Grizzlies are perhaps the antithesis of the Bulls since they depend on their depth every game. Sure, Valanciunas will get his double-double and Morant will have close to 20 points every game. But it's been their extended cast of contributors in Anderson, Grayson Allen, De’Anthony Melton, John Konchar, Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, Tyrus Jones, and Xavier Tillman who have truly kept the Grizzlies afloat. The Memphis bench is top 10 in the league in point differential, scorching most teams’ second units on both ends of the court. Bench minutes might prove the difference in tomorrow's game. The Bulls starting five stack up very well against Memphis', but once the second units come in, the Grizzlies could easily make runs.
Both these teams need every win they can get to qualify for the play-in tournament and maybe even get a twice-to-beat advantage. Expect a playoff atmosphere to go with your breakfast tomorrow.