The Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls are at opposite ends of the standings in the Eastern Conference, but you’d never know it by the way the teams are playing of late. The Bulls will go for their eighth win in nine games when they visit the slumping Boston Celtics on Saturday.
Chicago nearly pushed its winning streak to eight in a row before falling just short in a 115-112 loss at the Cleveland Cavaliers and felt like it should have pulled out the close game. “There’s a reason we were on that winning streak,” Bulls point guard Kris Dunn told reporters. “We had an edge. We played tough. It just sucks that the way we’ve won close games is defensive stops and we couldn’t get them tonight.” The way the Celtics won 16 straight earlier this season had a lot to do with defensive stops as well, but Boston’s struggles of late are coming at the offensive end. “I honestly don’t think there’s much of a concern,” center Al Horford told reporters after a 102-93 loss at New York on Thursday. “We just need to regroup, get as much rest as we can and get ready for a tough game on Saturday. I think we’re going to be OK. I don’t think we need to overreact.”
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCS Chicago, NBCS Boston
ABOUT THE BULLS (10-21): One of the wins during the recent surge came at home against Boston on Dec. 11, when Nikola Mirotic led the way with 24 points. Mirotic suffered his first loss since rejoining the team with Thursday’s setback but managed 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting and is averaging 19 on 52.5 percent shooting over the last eight games. Rookie forward Lauri Markkanen missed the first five games of the streak with a back injury and struggled in his first two games back before breaking out for 25 points in Thursday’s narrow defeat.
ABOUT THE CELTICS (26-9): Boston dropped back-to-back games for the first time since the opening two contests of the season with setbacks against Miami and the Knicks in the last two outings. “It’s a long year,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters after the loss in New York. “It’s a marathon. I just told our guys, ‘Listen, there’s a lot of things we can improve on, but that was the kind of fight that we can build off of.’ The last couple, not so much. This one, we’ll be OK if we play like that more often than not.” Kyrie Irving is trying to carry the scoring burden and put up at least 30 points in five of the last six games.
1. Dunn scored in double figures in each of the last 10 games and handed out a season-high 14 assists on Thursday.
2. Celtics SG Jaylen Brown (Achilles) sat out Thursday and is day-to-day.
3. Boston beat Chicago in six games in the first round of the playoffs last spring.
PREDICTION: Celtics 102, Bulls 100