Tom Thibodeau's group is in the midst of playing 10 of 12 games away from the United Center. Eight games into that stretch, they are just 3-5, but on close to a week's worth of rest and a group nearly at full-strength, the Bulls should feel confident heading to New Orleans tonight when they take on the Hornets (19-34).
Kirk Hinrich is set to return from an elbow injury that has held him out of action in February, and Joakim Noah -- who played 17 minutes in Sunday's All-Star Game in Houston -- is confident he and the medical staff will find a way to play through his plantar fasciitis. Both will be in the lineup when the Bulls square off against one of the youngest starting lineups in the NBA.
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The record may not do it justice, but the Hornets have a handful of some of the most talented young players in the league. Behind No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis (12.5 points, 7.5 rebounds), injury-plagued shooting guard Eric Gordon (16.4 points, 1.4 3-pointers in 18 games), 26-year-old Greivis Vasquez (13.9 points, 9.4 assists) and Ryan Anderson (17.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.0 3-pointers), New Orleans' core is not lacking for potential or athleticism.
Also included in that group are No. 10 overall pick Austin Rivers, the versatile Al-Farouq Aminu and center Robin Lopez, who, at 24 years old, is in the midst of a mini-breakout season (11.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.6 blocks). Monty Williams' group won't be contending for a playoff spot this year, but his team's youth and streakiness -- they won 6-of-7 at one point this season and enter tonight having won 4-of-5 -- makes them prone to play spoiler on any given night.
That's exactly what they did early in the year, when they traveled to the United Center and took down the Bulls 89-82 on Nov. 3. The Hornets were without Davis (concussion) and Gordon (knee) on that night, but Vasquez's 18 points, Anderson's double-double (12 points, 13 rebounds) and Lopez's shooting (16 points, 7-of-10 FG) led the way.
[RELATED: Thibodeau, Bulls look to get intensity level back]
There's always something to fear about a young team not playing for anything but pride, especially at home, and if the Bulls are prepared to kick up the intensity level tonight is the place to start. Thibodeau's group trails the Pacers by 1.5 games and has just a 3.5-game lead on the Bucks. The closest division race in the league starts its stretch run tonight, so tune into Comcast SportsNet Plus to see if the Bulls can get it going with a win in New Orleans. Coverage begins with Bulls Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.