Keys to the Game: Bulls at Clippers (11.19.16)
The Chicago Bulls are still trying to figure out how good they can be amid a whole lot of positive early season signs. They'll receive an awfully good barometer reading when they see the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night.
The Bulls, riding a four-game winning streak, will play the third of six consecutive games on the road during their annual circus trip. They'll venture into the home of the NBA's best team this season, and one of the best early season clubs ever to take the floor.
The Clippers (11-2) extended the best start in franchise history with a 121-115 road victory at the Sacramento Kings on Friday night. They took control early, led by 20 points early in the fourth quarter and held off a furious Sacramento rally.
But for a team outscoring opponents by an average of 14.2 points per game this season, among the best 10 teams in NBA history through 13 contests, it was not a result that made them happy.
"No question," guard Chris Paul said. "It's nice to look at film of a game and see what you did wrong and still be able to talk about a win. But we expect to be better that that."
The Bulls (8-4) have been better than anticipated during the season's first month, but whether it's a springboard to better things remains to be seen.
The early results have been encouraging. Chicago has won its past four by an average of 14 points per game, leads the NBA in rebounding and is sixth in preventing opponents from scoring.
In doing so, they've taken some heat off second-year coach Fred Hoiberg, who survived a tumultuous debut campaign in 2015-16 that ended with only 42 victories and Chicago watching the playoffs.
"There's great accountability in the locker room with these guys," Hoiberg told the Chicago Sun-Times before the team's 85-77 victory over at Utah on Thursday. "It starts with our veterans. ... I've been so impressed with the way our veterans have handled things and hopefully we can keep moving in the right direction."
Sixth-year guard Jimmy Butler leads the Bulls in scoring at 24.2 points per game. Free-agent acquisitions Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have added 17.3 points and 6.5 assists per game, respectively. Rondo is questionable to play because a sprained left ankle; second-year guard Jerian Grant has started the past two games in his place.
Wade's presence also has healed a clubhouse that was fractured a season ago but received a facelift after the the departures of guard Derrick Rose and center Joakim Noah.
"I wouldn't have come here if I didn't think I could help this organization and help Jimmy," Wade told the Chicago Sun-Times. "This organization to me is important. It's my childhood's favorite organization. I knew I could help from what I've learned in this league."
Chicago makes most of its hay on the boards. They've outrebounded opponents by an average of 49-31 this season, including 52-42 in their eight victories.
Against the Clippers, they'll face a team that ranks fifth in scoring at 109.6 per game and is second in rebounds at 53.2.
Clippers guard J.J. Redick will be seeking to extend his consecutive-games streak with at least one 3-pointer to 70, the longest active run in the NBA.
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