Thursday Night NBA Action: Chicago Bulls host Boston Celtics

It’s a classic match-up on tap in NBA Basketball action tonight as the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls (42-13, 21-6 home) get set to host the Boston Celtics (30-23, 11-14 away) at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois, with tip-off set to take place at 9:30 PM ET. In a match-up between two highly skilled defensive teams where each is seeking to recover from recent losses, there’s little doubt that tonight’s contest is definitely one to watch for on the betting lines at one of the top online sportsbooks betting sites reviewed here.

The Chicago Bulls come into tonight’s epic clash with Boston losers of their last two games, and look to avoid a season-high 3-game skid at the hands of their long-time rivals from the Northeast. Having suffered just their first string of back-to-back losses this year, the Bulls will be anxious to get back into their typical strong defensive form, and will hopefully get a boost tonight by the prospects for return of one Derrick Rose. Rose, who has been sidelined for the previous 11 games with a groin injury, is a game-time decision for tonight, however just the idea of getting last year’s NBA MVP back in the line-up is certain to give the Bulls at least a little spark as they head into the final 10 games of the lockout-shortened season. Though Rose’s presence back in the lineup would certainly be a blessing for the Bulls, perhaps even more importantly for Chicago tonight is how they play on defense, against one of the most veteran and stingy defenses in the NBA. One very important key to tonight’s game for Chicago is being able to hold on to a late lead. On Monday against the Houston Rockets, the Bulls blew a 13-point fourth quarter lead to lose 99-93, which put to an end an impressive 86-game run without back-to-back losses in regular season play. Costly turnovers have also been at issue in the past two losses for Chicago, so another key factor for the Bulls will be protecting the ball in the face of a very opportunistic Boston defense tonight.

Boston on the other hand has been playing some of their best basketball of the season down the stretch, winning 5 straight games before getting handed a tough loss at home against San Antonio on Wednesday. Despite allowing 59 points in the first half to the Spurs, Boston still was within a last-second shot of overcoming San Antonio, who went on to win 87-86 for its 9th straight win in a row. As Boston tries to regroup tonight, emphasis will be placed on making sure Chicago doesn’t jump out to a similar strong start, and control the game to the final buzzer. There’s no question tonight’s contest is going to be a defensive match-up, as the two teams each allow less than 90 points per game to opposing offenses, but for Boston, which doesn’t have the depth of scoring available to them that Chicago does, it’s critical that the Celtics play smothering defense, and prevent the Bulls from having a high shooting percentage at home. First and foremost to meet those ends, Boston has to do better in the paint against Chicago, which leads the league in rebounding at 46.1 per game, and also is tops in terms of offensive boards. Chicago is much more physical than Boston is inside the paint with Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, and while finding a way to stop the rebounding prowess of these three Bulls rebounders is somewhat fruitless, containing one or two of them is essential for Boston tonight. If Boston can’t hinder the big Bulls players around the bucket, and/or struggle to generate rebounds themselves (they average nearly 8 rebounds less per game than Chicago), Chicago will have a solid upper hand towards getting back into the winning column.

While Boston will certainly hope to have an advantage tonight with Derrick Rose still questionable to play, the Celtics must look to their own scorers to provide a boost against a very capable Bulls defense that is allowing just 88.8 points/game, and holds opponents to just 42.8 percent shooting, the 3rd-lowest mark in the league. Ray Allen may be a bigger factor tonight as he works back into the line-up after missing 6 games due to injury, but even more important for Boston tonight will be what Paul Pierce can do, as he’s been the leader and the main reason for the Celtics’ success over the past week and a half. Pierce has 6 straight games scoring above 20 points, and after a subdued shooting night against San Antonio (15 points on 7-16 shooting) in which he was held without a free-throw attempt, it’s evident that a more physical game from Pierce will suit Boston well. Pierce will need to do a better job of penetrating the Bulls defense tonight, and force them to either foul or over-commit enough to open up quick passes inside to Kevin Garnett and/or Brandon Bass. Both Garnett and Bass will have better games if Pierce is more actively attempting to get inside to the bucket, drawing the attention of Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng. Also important to Boston is getting their outside shooting game back in business. Without Ray Allen, who shoots at 45.9 percent from 3-pt range, the Celtics are left with just Pierce and Mikael Peitrus firing threes, each of whom sit around 35.5 percent from beyond the arc. Ray Allen, though likely to still be working his way back into the line-up on limited minutes, could provide a huge boost for Boston if he can drop in 3-4 three pointers tonight against Chiago.

Chicago’s main key to victory is to avoid letting an otherwise subdued scoring offense get the better of them late in the game. While Chicago continues to play extremely well defensive especially at home, they’ve not looked good in the second half of their last two defeats, and have to get back to holding opponents’ offenses to under 90 points a night. Interestingly enough, Boston’s 91.5 points/game average is right on the margin of absolute victory for Chicago. The Bulls have yet to lose a game this year when their opponent scores 91 points or less, and in their last 5 defeats, teams are averaging 99.6 points against them. It’s evident in the two previous games between these two teams that the Bulls simply have to keep opposing teams under or around 90 points. In the last meeting vs. Boston at the United Center, the Bulls held the Celtics to just 80 points, and won handily 89-80. Just 4 days earlier in Boston, the Bulls dropped a 95-91 game in which Rajon Rondo went for 32 points and a triple-double, while the Celtics shot nearly 50 percent from the floor. In comparison, the two wins coming for the Bulls against Boston this year were built on Chicago holding Boston to under 42 percent shooting, and clearly winning the rebounding margin. If Chicago gets back to its basics, holding down opponents’ shooting and winning the battle of the boards, they’ll be able to stop their 2-game slide and start looking forward to life with Derrick Rose back in the lineup.

Betting lines for the Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls at Intertops Sportsbook

With the pressure on Chicago to prevent their first 3-game slide this season, the Bulls enter tonight’s contest as a -300 favorite on the money line, based on their solid 21-6 mark for straight up wagers on the Bulls at home. Boston on the other hand continues to struggle with form on the road, going 11-14 away from the TD Garden, but the Celtics have gone 4-1 in their last 5 road games to date. Chicago is 6-1 in its’ last 7 games straight up against Boston at home.

Against the spread at Intertops, Chicago is a 7 point favorite at -110 odds, while Boston gets +7 points to play with in this road match-up. In the last meeting between the two teams in Chicago, the Bulls covered the spread, winning by 9 points, 89-80. At home overall ATS, the Bulls are 11-14-1, while on the road Boston is a very similar 11-14. The Celtics though are 5-0-1 in their last 6 games ATS, as their improved play has helped them prevail for spread pickers over the last 2 weeks.

On the total points line, the match-up stands at a miniscule 117 points. However, Boston has kept to the underside of the points total in 5 of their last 6 match-ups, as their stand-up defense has worked to prevent a break out into the over side of the total points line. Also, the points total has gone under in 4 of the last 5 meetings with Boston at the United Center.

Interesting trends to look at in tonight’s game include the fact that Boston is an impressive 9-1 this season when playing on Thursday night. Chicago on the other hand is just 3-7 in that scenario this year. However, with Chicago suffering only its first back-to-back set of losses this week, they are also 9-1 coming off a loss, which gives plenty of good reason to want to side with the Bulls to regain their form at home tonight.

Whichever way this match-up pans out tonight, rest assured that both teams will be trying to get back to that which they do best; defense. Chicago will look to avoid the costly turnovers and slack play late in the game that has cost them a few recent losses, and Boston will try to keep their shooting percentage up, limit the effectiveness of Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng, and attempt to avoid getting dominated in the paint. While the spread says Chicago should walk out with a relatively easy win tonight, don’t expect the Celtics to take this one lying down, especially as they continue to search for critical wins while they battle with Philadelphia for the Atlantic division lead, and chase Indiana for the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Expect a fantastic match-up and a close finish to give online sports betting a solid boost on Thursday night.

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