The Bulls are searching desperately to get back on track inside the United Center, where they've lost two of their last three, as they take on Josh Smith and the Atlanta Hawks on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live, hosted by Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill.
Of all the potential downfalls the Bulls could have suffered without Derrick Rose, wins at home likely were near the bottom of that list. But after going 62-12 at the United Center the past two seasons, the Bulls have almost matched that loss total through 35 games in 2012-'13, managing a 10-10 record in Chicago. That also includes losses in two of the last three home contests, which, before this season, had never occurred in Tom Thibodeau's tenure. But that stretch has happened four times already, and the Bulls will need to reclaim their homecourt advantage as the season nears the halfway point.
It doesn't get easier, however, as one of the surprises of the Eastern Conference makes their way to the Madhouse on Madison tonight. The Hawks made one of the major moves of this past offseason, sending All-Star Joe Johnson and the remainder of his max contract to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Williams, DeShawn Stevenson and a future first-round pick. In essence, it was a salary dump -- Johnson was due nearly 90 million over the next four seasons -- that didn't send back much talent for Atlanta to work with for the upcoming season. But in the weak East (and their awful Southeast Division) the Hawks have managed to jump out to a 21-15 record and sit in the No. 5 seed in the conference. Eight of those wins have come against the Wizards, Bobcats and Magic, teams with a combined 22-78 record, though they do have wins over Oklahoma City and Memphis.
Another one of those wins, however, came against the Bulls on Dec. 22, when Al Horford's 20 points and 10 rebounds paced the Hawks in a 92-75 victory in Chicago. The Bulls were without Rip Hamilton, but the offense suffered its second worst outing of the year as Luol Deng's 11 points led Chicago, which shot 42 percent and went to the free throw line just eight times. Carlos Boozer managed eight points and four rebounds in the loss, but the Hawks should see a different power forward tonight.
Boozer has been stellar through the Bulls recent woes, averaging 22.7 points and 10.2 rebounds in six games since the calendar flipped to 2013. He's connecting on better than 54 percent of his field goal attempts in that span after making 46 percent through 25 games. He'll need to be at his best once again against Horford and Smith.
Tonight also marks the second return to Chicago for sharpshooter Kyle Korver, who is in the midst of his best season in eight years. He's averaging 2.6 3-pointers a game, helping to fill the void left by Johnson, off the bench, and scored a reserve-best 13 points in December's matchup with the Bulls. Newcomers Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson have taken the majority of the outside shooting with Korver out of the lineup. The Bulls still rank last in the league at 4.6 3-pointers per game, but have improved to 10th in 3-point percentage (35.8).
The Bulls have lost two of three at home (and overall), while Atlanta stumbles into the United Center having lost five of its last six. One team will get back on track with a big win that may hold playoff seeding implications by season's end, so tune into Comcast SportsNet to catch all of tonight's action.