Grizzlies-Bulls Preview

The Associated Press

The Memphis Grizzlies got the best of the Chicago Bulls in a low-scoring affair last month.

Points could be even harder to come by this time around if Zach Randolph and Luol Deng can't play.

Memphis' Randolph and Chicago's Deng are both uncertain to be available Saturday night in what sets up as a defensive battle at the United Center.

Randolph had 10 points and 15 rebounds as Memphis (25-13) pulled out an ugly 80-71 win over Chicago (23-15) on Dec. 17. The Grizzlies, who shot 37.5 percent in that game, limited the Bulls to 37.3 percent and their fewest points this season.

While Memphis is giving up 89.8 points per game to rank second in the NBA, Chicago isn't far behind at 91.9. Neither team figures to light up the scoreboard Saturday, especially if Randolph and Deng don't suit up.

Averaging 16.4 points and 11.6 boards and leading the league with 25 double-doubles, Randolph was held out Friday against Sacramento with a strained back suffered two nights earlier. All five starters, though, scored in double figures for the Grizzlies, who beat the Kings 85-69 behind a stifling defensive display.

Memphis, which had allowed an average of 102.0 points in dropping its previous three games, limited Sacramento to a season-worst 34.1 percent from the field and surrendered its fewest points in 2012-13.

"It was a must-win game," said Marreese Speights, who had 10 points and nine boards while starting in place of Randolph. "We knew that before the game. We knew that (Thursday) when we had a team meeting. We knew we couldn't lose at home and get blown out like we did the last three games."

The Bulls could be in trouble if Deng is forced to miss time. The All-Star forward, averaging a team-high 17.4 points, tried to play through a sore right hamstring Friday at Boston but scored a season-low three points on 1-of-6 shooting before aggravating the injury and exiting late in the third quarter.

Chicago, though, overcame his absence thanks to another big effort from Carlos Boozer and Marco Belinelli's late-game heroics. The Italian hit an off-balance jumper with 3.1 seconds left in overtime to lift the Bulls past the Celtics 100-99.

"That's natural. I know it's a crazy shot, the fallaway. The ball went in," said Belinelli, who finished with 10 points off the bench.

While Belinelli may see more minutes with Deng's status up in the air, Jimmy Butler could also be asked to play a significant role. The second-year swingman scored half of his team's 12 points in OT, finishing with a career high-tying 13.

"It was really fun being out there with my guys. It's crazy they have me out there," Butler said. "They had faith in me. Whenever I scored a basket they kept yelling, 'Keep going Jimmy!'"

Winners of a season best-tying three straight and seven of nine, the Bulls appear to be hitting their stride thanks in large part to Boozer. The 11-year veteran, who had 19 points and a season-high 20 rebounds against Boston, is averaging 22.3 and 12.0 over his last 11 games - posting double-doubles in all but one.

Boozer has scored 20.3 points per game versus Memphis - his highest career mark against any foe.

While the Bulls have won five straight and 10 of 12 on the road, they've struggled a bit on their own court. Chicago has gone 11-10 at home, although the Grizzlies are 3-14 all-time at the United Center.

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