NBA: Spurs' returning stars to help beat faltering Bulls
With San Antonio back fit and firing, they should be too much for a Chicago team that have been lacking effort.
It's a little odd this season that two teams that no-one thought would be on top of each conference are sitting pretty yet the two that many felt would be nailed-on for the first seed haven't found their rhythm. The San Antonio Spurs meet the Chicago Bulls on Thursday in what would usually look like a titanic clash yet it feels much more like two teams still trying to find form near the middle of the season.
The Bulls haven't been the same defensive machine this year and whilst they've improved on offence, it's not been enough to stop teams scoring against them. Point guard and hometown hero Derrick Rose called his team-mates out on Martin Luther King Day saying they weren't putting enough effort in and it showed, they gave up 20 offensive rebounds to a still gelling Cleveland Cavaliers team.
The Spurs, on the other hand, finally have everyone fit and are still finding their feet together again. They've been winning but not convincingly, they are sharing around the points but the team are making much less assists than in their spectacular run to the NBA Championship last season. However, with Paddy Mills back and everyone available, they should be ready to make a run in the second half of the season.
This'll be pretty close as the Spurs aren't quite as positive offensively as last year but take them to win and also have a look for them to win by 4-6 points. Whilst the Bulls won't be able to stop San Antonio, they Spurs won't quite have the firepower to pull away in this one.
The other game to highlight on Thursday takes place at the Staples Centre as the LA Clippers host the Brooklyn Nets. It's starting to look like the Nets are at the beginning of a rebuild, ready to move on any highly-paid asset they have in an attempt to cut costs as the rich owner Mikhail Prokhorov tries to sell the team.
The Clippers are still a team difficult to trust despite winning eight of their last eleven because they build up leads that they try their best to throw away in the final quarter. They have Blake Griffin playing some good basketball and DeAndre Jordan is having another solid defensive year but their bench hasn't quite been at it's best.