What to watch in Bulls-Knicks upcoming mini-series


Regardless of where either team stands in the NBA hierarchy, it is appointment viewing each time the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks lock horns.

One of the NBA’s fiercest and most storied rivalries, a playoff atmosphere is not uncommon, even two decades after Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing were mainstays.

This week, in a scheduling oddity, the two teams will meet for games at the United Center on both Wednesday and Friday night. With the Bulls 11-15 and one game out of the play-in tournament as of this writing, the contests have increased importance — particularly because of the Bulls’ glaring record disparity at home (7-5) versus on the road (4-10).

Here are three storylines to watch:

The Knicks are red hot

After a 10-13 start to the season, the Knicks have jumped into the Eastern Conference’s No. 6 seed — 2.5 games ahead of the Bulls — with a four-game win streak that features victories over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings (each of whom have beaten the Bulls this season).

And while Julius Randle — averaging 28 points and 10.3 rebounds — has been the star of that stretch, the primary key has been defense.

Through 23 games, the Knicks owned a 114.2 defensive rating, 26th in the NBA, a dynamic that surely frustrated head coach Tom Thibodeau.

But in the last four games, they have held the Cavaliers, Hawks and Kings under 100 points and allowed the Hornets 102, good for a 94.4 defensive rating (first in the NBA in that span) that has catapulted their overall rank to 11th.

Even factoring in Saturday’s 144-point explosion against a shorthanded Dallas Mavericks squad, the Bulls’ offense has been underwhelming so far this season (as of Wednesday, their offensive rating of 110.7 ranks 19th in the league). So this matchup will be one to watch closely.

Bruised backcourts

The Bulls, of course, remain without Lonzo Ball indefinitely. But they also recently took hits to two other backcourt defenders in Alex Caruso, who suffered a tailbone contusion in the first quarter of Saturday’s game, and Ayo Dosunmu, who suffered an abdominal contusion during Sunday’s overtime loss to the Hawks.

Caruso practiced on Tuesday and is listed as probable on the team’s injury report, placing him on track to play. Dosunmu did not practice and is questionable.

On the Knicks’ side, starting point guard Jalen Brunson, who is averaging 20.1 points and 6.3 assists in his first season with the team, is questionable to play after sustaining a right foot injury during New York’s win over the Kings on Sunday. He did not practice on Tuesday and is questionable for Wednesday’s game, according to Thibodeau.

So Chicago fans may be deprived of some homecoming intrigue for the decorated Stevenson alum. However, that could open the door for…

Derrick Rose’s return?

Rose has been out of the Knicks’ rotation since, incidentally, the start of their current win streak, as Thibodeau has instead leaned on younger bodies in the backcourt like Quentin Grimes, Miles “Deuce” McBride and Immanuel Quickley.

But if Brunson is not able to play one or both games, could the former Bulls MVP see some run in his old stomping grounds?

Time will tell. But what is certain is that Rose will be regaled by the home crowd if he does see game action. To this day, he is widely considered a hometown hero and has multiple times received “MVP” chants at the United Center on return stops, even when playing for the opposition.

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