Last night, the Hornets got an important win against the Minnesota Timberwolves. After again suffering an early deficit in the first quarter, they were able to come back and put an end to the three-game losing streak that marred the start of this current road trip. That win, thanks to the Pistons' overtime win against the Celtics, puts the Hornets back in 8th spot in the Eastern Conference. I'm sure they'll lose cede that position again at some point, but as of right now, the Hornets are currently in a playoff spot.
So that's the context that you'll need to keep in mind when watching tonight's game. Although the Hornets are somehow playing their second back-to-back on a road trip that's only a week long, the NBA unfortunately does not award extra points based on schedule difficulty (though, if that was the case, the Hornets would be spotted at least a double digit lead to start the game). And since Steve Clifford (justifiably) shrunk the rotation to eight players last night, that means the Hornets are going to have to get major contributions from players who didn't appear against Minnesota. This is understandable, as the toll of playing an NBA game, then flying to another city, then playing in another NBA game-- all in the span of 24 hours-- is not something that the human body is made to reasonably withstand (That said, genetic scientists will unlock the secret to athletic fatigue within the next 50 years, mark my words). If the Hornets are lucky, one of those players who didn't appear last night could include Cody Zeller, who was held out against the Timberwolves with a shoulder injury, but is day-to-day, and could appear in tonight's game-- and, if he's healthy, that would be a huge help for the team. If he's not healthy, expect Jason Maxiell to see a good chunk of time on the floor.
Meanwhile, the Bulls haven't exactly had a good run lately. Their injury concerns include their superstar-when-healthy-but-rarely-healthy former MVP Derrick Rose (torn meniscus, will miss game), and do-it-all-mostly-out-of-necessity forward Jimmy Butler (sprained elbow, will miss game). Somewhat understandably, they're 3-5 in their last eight games, including losses to the Pacers, Hornets, and Pistons, and an overtime win against the 76ers, which probably doesn't feel any better than a loss. Of course, that does still leave stalwart Joakim Noah, revitalized superstar Pau Gasol, solid 6th man Nikola Mirotic, and a few good range shooters including Mike Dunleavy, Aaron Brooks, and Tony Snell. Even with the injuries, they're a strong team, which makes it all the more surprising that they've lost their past two contests against the Hornets.
The Bulls aren't the same defensively without Butler, and they aren't the same offensively without either him or Rose, so they will look like a diminished team trying to improvise around the absence of two absolutely vital players. That said, they're one of the most disciplined teams in the league, so they won't give up a lot of fouls (and they'll draw quite a few), they won't turn the ball over much, and they'll force the Hornets to take some shots that you'll be frustrated by before you even see the ball carom off the back rim. Where the Bulls are weak includes their shooting (Butler ranks first on the team in True Shooting %, and the team ranks 20th in effective FG%), their point guard play (Aaron Brooks ranks second on the team in shot attempts per possessions. Whoops! Also Kirk Hinrich is really just not very good), and their ability to force turnovers (somehow they're worst in the league! And the Hornets are the best at preventing turnovers! I like our odds in this category and this category alone).
The Bulls are a flawed team, especially now that they've had two key starters go down with injuries, but it's important to keep in mind that there isn't a single team that plays better after they played an entire basketball game the previous night. As far as advantages go, I'd call this one semi-even for now. In the meantime, the game tips off at 8:00 tonight, and it'll be interesting to see whether the Hornets can hang on to their tentative playoff spot for just a little while longer.