Celtics vs. Bulls (8pm ET Thursday, TNT)
Since losing three of their last four, the Celtics are now 19-16, barely hanging on to the 8th seed in the East, despite sporting the conference’s 3rd-best point differential. Last night’s loss to the Pistons was a heartbreaker, as the C’s led by 13 midway through the 3rd quarter and were still up 1 with 2:47 to play, before falling 99-94. Boston had 8 fewer turnovers and 5 more assists, but lost the battle of the boards 47-39, and made a paltry 6 of 28 from 3-point land. The game marked big man David Lee’s second consecutive DNP, as coach Brad Stevens is trying out a new small ball lineup. Point guard Isaiah “No Relation” Thomas is nursing a sprained thumb, but managed to play against Detroit, while second-leading scorer Avery Bradley has a hip pointer that will likely keep him on the bench.
The Bulls, on the other hand, are riding high, having won their last 5 games in a row, most recently beating Milwaukee 117-106, despite the loss of Joakim Noah, who’s expected to miss two to four weeks with a tear in his shoulder. Jimmy Butler had an off game in the first win, but has been bananas over the past four, averaging 31 points, 6 assists and 3.5 rebounds. Derrick Rose, meanwhile, continues to struggle – of the 441 guys who’ve logged minutes through Tuesday, Rose ranks 425 in Basketball Reference’s Win Shares, at -0.2, a number achieved on the back of a .390 shooting percentage.
Lakers vs. Kings (10:30pm ET Thursday, TNT)
The Lakers recently enjoyed a 3-game winning streak that was predictably snapped by the Golden State Warriors. The streak was the result of two unrelated but overlapping events: they played the Sixers and Suns and Kobe Bryant missed a couple of games. Los Angeles is now 8-28, 8 games behind Utah, current residents of the 8th spot in the West, and Kobe ranks 437th in Win Shares, at -0.6, as his farewell tour slogs along.
The Sacramento Kings lost on Tuesday, 117-116, in an epic double-overtime throwdown with the Dallas Mavericks. The Kings had trailed by as much as 10, but clawed all the way back, tying it on a last-second layup by DeMarcus Cousins, only to fall in the second OT on a 3-point buzzer-beater by Deron Williams. Making things even more painful, the Kings had managed to hang with the Mavs for 57 minutes and 59 seconds despite point guard Rajon Rondo being sidelined with back spasms. Rondo is questionable for tonight’s game. The Kings are 14-21, a game and a half behind Utah.