It’s the final NBA on TNT Thursday doubleheader of the regular season tonight. And just a week or two ago, the opener between Boston and Chicago looked like it might be one of the most important games of the year as the two clubs battled for that vital No. 1 seed in the East. But the Bulls now seem a lock to get it as they have a three-game lead with five to play and tonight can even the season series at 2-2.
How the Teams Enter
The Bulls enter having won three straight and eight of nine. They beat Phoenix at the United Center, 97-94, on Tuesday despite nearly blowing a 22-point third-quarter lead and the fact that NBA MVP lock Derrick Rose hit just 6-for-15 from the field. At 34-5, Chicago has the NBA’s second-best home record and is now 19-5 with Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah are both playing, which has been rather rare this year.
Boston really hasn’t been the same since the shocking trade of Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City. The Celtics have won two straight, however, and handled a surging 76ers team, 99-82, on Tuesday night in Beantown. Rajon Rondo led the way with 16 points and 13 assists. He had a rough patch in March, but is Rondo is back on track, reaching double digits in assists or rebounds in four straight games after failing to do so a dozen times in the 14 games before that.
Celtics at Bulls Betting Story Lines
The No. 1 seed seems more important to the Bulls than the Celtics, as veteran Boston has proven it can win on the road in the playoffs. But that top spot is especially crucial this year, it would seem, because it would mean avoiding either Boston or Miami until the conference finals and it probably also means watching those two have a grueling series in the East semifinals. The Celtics lead the Heat by a half-game for the No. 2 seed, but that’s really 1.5 games because Boston already has clinched the season series – the two face off for the final time Sunday. The Bulls would love to clinch the top spot ASAP because then they can give Rose a bit of a rest to have him fresh for the postseason.
Don’t look for an offensive shootout tonight, thanks largely to one guy: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. Of course he is the former “defensive coordinator” for the Celtics. And Boston is No. 1 in scoring defense this year at 90.8 points per game while Chicago is No. 2 at 91.5 ppg.
This is the first look at the Celtics for the Bulls after the Kendrick Perkins trade (although Perkins didn’t play in the first three meetings with Chicago). Boston won the first two meetings at home, but Chicago won the most recent meeting, 90-79, in the Windy City on Jan. 8. Rose was brilliant in that one with 36 points and set career highs for free throws made and attempted with a 15-for-19 performance. He singlehandedly got multiple Celtics in foul trouble. The Bulls won that one without Noah. He returned from a sprained ankle Tuesday (a different injury) after missing more than a week and had 12 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out four assists. Bulls guard Keith Bogans skipped practice Wednesday with a sore right knee. But Thibodeau said the veteran would play tonight. Bogans, a defensive specialist, and Luol Deng are the only Bulls to start all 77 games. Boston remains without Shaquille O’Neal but he could return from his injury as early as Friday.
Celtics at Bulls Betting Odds and Key Trends
Chicago is a 4.5-point favorite on NBA odds with the total at 179. Chicago is 34-5 at home and 23-14-2 ATS. Boston is 23-15 on the road and 18-20 ATS.
The Bulls are 0-4 ATS in their last four home games and 1-4 ATS in their last five overall.
Boston is 9-2 ATS in its past 11 as a dog.
The ‘under’ is 12-3 in Boston’s past 15 games.
The ‘over’ is 8-2 in Chicago’s past 10.
Boston is 1-4 ATS in the past five meetings.
NBA Picks: Celtics at Bulls Predictions
I think the Bulls really want to step on Boston’s throats and reduce their magic number to one to clinch the East and then be able to take their foot off the gas pedal for a few games and get healthy. The Celtics, meanwhile, want to prove they are the beasts of the East and improve to 6-1 combined against Chicago and Miami this year. I think the Bulls win a close one – closer than 4.5, so take the points and Boston. Both teams seem likely to be in the high-80s points-wise so take the ‘under’.
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