Last we met the Bulls, the Kings came in 5-4, winners of a shocking four straight once Kevin Martin got knocked off his torrid All-Star pace with a hand fracture. Sacramento had subpar performances from three key talismen (Tyreke Evans, Jason Thompson and most notably Spencer Hawes) and lost handily to the then-struggling Red and Black.
Andres Nocioni was unavailable in that game, though any boost you could portend from him here can be dismissed when you consider his replacement, Donte Greene, ripped Chicago apart with 24 points. Still, Chapu is a beloved player in most corners of the CHI, and I imagine he'll have a touch more swag this evening. Well that hurts or helps is, of course, another matter entirely.
Really, where the Kings need help here is with Evans, Thompson and Hawes. Surely Young Spence will start again -- Paul Westphal called his understated (to my eyes) Milwaukee performance the season's best from the green pivot -- and supposing Hawes plays well, Thompson should get a bit more free. Derrick Rose finally seems healthy, and Evans has a touch of the limp, so we'll see whether Reke can get back to his superlative standard again.
Sergio Rodriguez also played terrific ball in the first game; he has been stuck to the bench a bit of late, but Westphal has a long memory, and I imagine we'd see him early on.
THE KEY BATTLE
Jason Thompson vs. Taj Gibson. J.T. should destroy Gibson. He didn't last time (Joakim Noah marked him or helped off Hawes frequently) and that killed the Kings. The Bulls are just the sort of team J.T. should be going 20-10 against. Let's see it happen!
John Salmons will miss all 17 three-pointers he attempts.
Kings by 1.
5 PM tip -- the last early start as the Kings come home this week. Game thread at 5, Game thread II at 6, post-gamer at 7:45, recap by Christmas.