We may be just four games into the NBA season, but there are already a few teams that are turning heads in that small sample size. Two of them will match up on the court on Thursday night as the 3-1 New York Knicks visit the 4-0 Chicago Bulls in a battle between two of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls are 4-0 for the first time since the 1996-97 season.
Bulls add talent to support LaVine
That’s about the last time a Bulls vs. Knicks game had any real relevance in the NBA. Back then, Patrick Ewing and the Knicks were one of the chief rivals in the East for the dominant Bulls led by Michael Jordan. While Chicago and New York have enjoyed flashes of success in the decades since, both have rarely been any good at the same time.
That could change this year. The new-look Bulls are playing excellent defense and have brought in plenty of talent to join young All-Star Zach LaVine. Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, and Alex Caruso are among those now contributing to a Chicago team that looks like a true playoff contender in the East.
“This is the most excited I’ve ever been here,” LaVine told Sports Illustrated. “To understand that we’re going to be out here really competing, with goals set? It’s a good feeling.”
Meanwhile, the Knicks broke out last season to take the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. They lost in just five games to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, but that marked the first time New York made the postseason since 2012-13, and the first time they’d even finished in the top 10 of the conference since 2013-14.
New York commits to 3-point barrage
The Knicks could have rested on their laurels and been happy with being a solid contender. But New York promised a new look to its offense this year and so far, it’s delivered. The Knicks are throwing up 46 3-pointers per game, the second-most in the NBA. That’s up from 30 last season. Furthermore, they’re hitting 38% of those shots.
Evan Fournier leads the way with four made 3-pointers per game, with Kemba Walker (3.3), Derrick Rose (2.8), and Julius Randle (2.3) all also making multiple shots from behind the arc each night.
“We saw it last year, [what] the value of the 3 added to Julius’ game,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters. “What we’re seeing in the NBA today is the premium that’s put on shooting.”
It’s likely the Knicks’ 3-point numbers will come down to Earth a bit, and the Bulls won’t remain undefeated for too long. But both teams have already earned respect this season. FanDuel Sportsbook now lists Chicago as a -280 pick to make the playoffs this year – to be among the final eight teams in the Eastern Conference, not just to sneak into the play-in tournament – while New York stands at -200. Sure, both teams remain long shots to win the NBA Championship this year (+4800 for the Bulls, +10000 for the Knicks), but they’re headed in the right direction.
That makes tonight’s game an interesting one to watch for both fans and bettors. The Bulls are a 1.5-point home favorite over the Knicks in what could be a preview for a 4 vs. 5 matchup in the Eastern Conference come playoff time.