What Difference Does It Make? Sixers Face Rose-Less Bulls in Game Two

What Difference Does It Make? Sixers Face Rose-Less Bulls in Game Two

It probably says something about this series and the two teams involved that shortly after news of reigning MVP Derrick Rose's post-season-ending ACL tear broke, the discussion became "Does this mean the Bulls can't beat the Heat?" or in the slightly shorter-term, "Does this mean the Bulls can't beat the Celtics?" Remind any of these NBA prognosticators that the Bulls still technically have a first-round series to get through, and they'll probably say "Oh yeah, the Sixers? Well, they should still get through those guys no problem. Hey, did you see that Clippers-Grizzlies game on Sunday...?"

That's right: Even without Derrick Rose, nobody thinks that the Sixers have a chance against the Bulls. And really, why should they? The Rose-less Bulls still won at a much better clip during the regular season (18-9, a 67% winning percentage) than the Sixers did with their regular roster, and in the one game the two teams played without Rose, the Bulls won 89-80. The Bulls were even able to do that one thing without Rose that forever eluded the Sixers with their near-full complement of players: Beat the Miami Heat.

Still...take away Rose, and the teams do start seeming to match up kind of evenly. Elton Brand and Carlos Boozer, the two Duke power forwards, both have their respective strengths and weaknesses, but probably end up as something of a wash. Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala are both first-time All-Stars known for their prowess as wing defenders. John Lucas III has a little Lou Williams to him. And if you split the difference between the skills of Jodie Meeks and Evan Turner, the resulting player would probably look something like Rip Hamilton. When you look at it like that, it seems like this should be a pretty even series.

But there's still a huge advantage that Chicago boasts without their top scorer and emotional leader: Size. Starting center Joakim Noah can't shoot quite as well as Spencer Hawes, but he can pass like Spence does, and he can also do those things that centers are conventionally supposed to do, like rebound and block shots and protect the paint and such. The Bulls also bring two big-bodied bangers off the bench in Omir Asik and Taj Gibson off the bench that the Sixers have absolutely no answer for—Thaddeus Young, Nikola Vucevic and Lavoy Allen just don't have the size, muscle or boarding/defensive wherewithal to hang. If the Bulls can continue to own the glass, they can control the pace of the game, and score enough easy points off second-chance opportunities and run-outs that it'll mitigate the loss of Rose's 21.8 PPG a little.

Of course, if the Sixers can hang tough for three quarters, the loss of Rose does mean that the Bulls now join our ranks of the closerless—without Rose, crunchtime possessions either run through likely replacement starter CJ Watson or post scorer Carlos Boozer, neither of whom anyone is going to be confusing with Dirk Nowitzki in the fourth quarter anytime soon. You'd still probably take their options over those of the Sixers, but it at least means that one of the Bulls' biggest advantages over the Sixers going into the series has been nullified somewhat, and should the games ever be tight down the stretch, we'll all be hugely relieved not to see #1 in red dancing around in the half-court, causing all kinds of trouble for Philly.

8:00 tip tonight from the United Center. Hard to say exactly where the series goes from here, but realistically speaking, post-Rose injury I'd adjust the Sixers' chances in this series from about 1 in 15 to about 1 in 8 -- even if that's about twice as likely, it's still a relatively small chance in general. If the Sixers are goign to win this series, then I don't think I'm going out on much of a limb by saying they have to start with a win tonight -- punch the reeling Chicago in the mouth, take back home court and put the rest of the league on notice that the Bulls haven't advanced to face the Celtics (or maybe the Hawks, and then maybe the Heat) just yet.

Best of NBA: Curry, Warriors demolish Cavaliers, 126-91, at home

Best of NBA: Curry, Warriors demolish Cavaliers, 126-91, at home

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors certainly looked ready to trade some more blows with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers come June.

The two-time reigning MVP hit five 3-pointers and had 20 points while matching his season best with 11 assists in Golden State's 126-91 rout of the defending champs Monday.

Klay Thompson scored 26 points with five 3s, and Curry made four steals. Draymond Green produced his third triple-double of the season with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists while matching his career best with five blocks -- and had another dustup with King James in the process.

James had 20 points on 6-of-18 shooting and eight rebounds, and he and Green became the talk once more as their relationship turned even more testy.

Kevin Durant added 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and three blocks for the Warriors in a much-hyped matchup merely weeks after Golden State lost 109-108 in Cleveland on Christmas (see full recap).

Thomas explodes for 17 in fourth quarter to lift Celtics over Hornets
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas scored 17 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, and the surging Boston Celtics beat the Charlotte Hornets 108-98 on Monday night for their ninth victory in 11games.

It was Thomas' 25th straight game with 20 or more points. He's been putting up big final quarters of late -- scoring 20 or more three times this season. No other NBA player had done it more than once entering Monday.

Al Horford had 22 points, while Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder added 15 apiece for Boston, which has won all three meetings with Charlotte this season.

Kemba Walker scored 24 points and Marvin Williams 21 for the Hornets, who lost their fifth straight -- all on the road.

Thomas scored 13 straight points, pushing Boston ahead 93-83 with his 3-pointer from the left wing with 7 minutes left.

Boston led 80-71 entering the final period (see full recap).

Wizards remain hot with win over Trail Blazers
WASHINGTON  -- Bradley Beal scored 25 points and John Wall had 24 as the Washington Wizards took a page from the Portland Trail Blazers' playbook by hitting 13 3-pointers in a comfortable 120-101 victory on Monday afternoon.

The Wizards, who rely less on the 3-pointer than almost any NBA team, were 13 of 23 from beyond the arc in their 12th consecutive home victory. The 3-pointer-heavy Trail Blazers shot 8 of 26 on 3-point attempts.

After Washington coach Scott Brooks called Portland guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum as good as any backcourt in the league, Beal and John Wall outplayed them. Lillard led the Blazers with 22 points and McCollum had 12, but they combined to shoot 11 of 29 from the floor.

The Wizards have won four of their last five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored 34 seconds into overtime and the Pittsburgh Penguins ended the Washington Capitals' nine-game winning streak with a wild 8-7 victory Monday night that included nine second-period goals.

Sheary had two goals and an assist for the Penguins, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Evgeni Malkin picked up his 11th career hat trick during a frenetic second period, and Sidney Crosby collected his NHL-leading 27th goal to go with two assists. Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored for Pittsburgh, and Matt Murray got the win despite allowing seven goals on 28 shots.

The Penguins trailed 3-0 before scoring six goals in less than 11 minutes in the second period, more goals than the Capitals had allowed in a game all season. Pittsburgh led 6-5 after 40 minutes.

Lars Eller scored twice for Washington, and T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Nicklas Backstrom, Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky also found the net. Philipp Grubauer made eight saves after coming on in relief of Braden Holtby, who was pulled during Pittsburgh's second-period deluge (see full recap).

Eichel scores twice to give Sabres' 4-1 win over Stars
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel scored two goals and the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Dallas Stars 4-1 on Monday.

Tyler Ennis scored 19 seconds into the first period. Ennis returned after missing 30 games with a groin injury that required surgery.

Jake McCabe also had a goal and Robin Lehner made 31 saves after missing the past three games with an illness.

The Sabres snapped a two-game losing streak and beat the Stars for the first time in four matchups.

Radek Faksa scored for the Stars in the opener of a three-game road trip. Kari Lehtonen stopped 25 shots. Dallas has lost two in a row and six of eight (see full recap).

Bishop anchors Lightning to 2-1 win over Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brian Boyle scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period, and the Tampa Bay Lightning opened a six-game road trip with a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.

Ben Bishop made an early mistake that led to Kyle Clifford's goal for the Kings, but bounced back to make 31 saves in his second start back from a three-week absence with a lower-body injury.

Tyler Johnson scored in the first period for the Lightning, who won for just the second time in seven games.

Peter Budaj stopped 27 shots for the Kings.

Both teams played without stars due to illness. Kings captain Anze Kopitar missed his first game since Nov. 20, and All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman missed his first game of the season for Tampa Bay (see full recap).