Keys to the Game: Bulls at 76ers (10.20.18)

The Chicago Bulls tip-off the United Center’s 24th NBA season this evening against the visiting Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons opened the 2018-19 campaign Wednesday at home with a 103-100 victory over the Brooklyn Nets. All-Stars Blake Griffin (26 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists) and Andre Drummond (24 points, 20 rebounds) along with point guard Reggie Jackson (19 points, 4 assists) led the Motown charge. Seven other Pistons also saw the floor, but between them could only muster a combined 34 points as Detroit shot just 42.4% from the field overall, and 25% from behind the arc. Pretty or ugly, a win’s a win.

The Bulls, on the other hand, hit the home hardwood looking to bounce back after getting thumped hard in Philadelphia Thursday, 127-108.

Both Chicago and Philly came out blazing to open the new season. At one point the Bulls knocked down 13 straight shots over a six-minute span to sprint to a 41-38 lead after 12 minutes. Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis led the way, with LaVine notching 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting in just under 10 minutes, while Portis was a perfect 5-of-5 from the field, including 3-of-3 from distance to post 13 points. Unfortunately for the then-upset minded Bulls, the wheels began to wobble early in the second quarter, and completely blew out during the third as the Sixers outscored Chicago 64-35 during those 24 minutes to run away with the game. At one point in the third quarter Philadelphia tallied 17 unanswered points as the Bulls went ice cold from the floor. Philly also took command of the boards at this point and relentlessly took off down the court for easy buckets. By the time the final buzzer sounded the Sixers had outscored Chicago 20-3 in fastbreak points, and 17-10 in second chance scoring.

Another key aspect in the loss to Philadelphia the other night was the Bulls’ failure to generate much action going to the rim and making their way to the free throw line. The Sixers constantly attacked the rim and ended up visiting the charity stripe 30 times, connecting on 27 while Chicago only attempted 12 free tosses, hitting nine.

Undoubtedly there aren’t a lot of bright spots to 19-point losses, however it should not be overlooked just how well LaVine and Portis played throughout the evening. LaVine, a fifth-year guard out of UCLA, posted a game-high 30 points and added five boards, three assists and three blocked shots. Portis, now in his fourth season out of Arkansas, pulled off a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds. It should also be mentioned that the Bulls were playing shorthanded as starting point guard Kris Dunn was a late scratch from the lineup after leaving the team to go home for the birth of his first child, while last season’s NBA Rookie First Team player Lauri Markkanen was out of action with a bum elbow, and key rotation player Denzel Valentine was out nursing a nagging ankle injury. Most likely Dunn will be in the lineup tonight, but Valentine is still day-to-day while Markkanen is out until late November.

Detroit is implementing a new offensive scheme, one in which long distance shots and an equal number of runs at the rim is the primary goal. That doesn’t mean the Pistons are going to aim to shoot 45 3s and 45 layups/dunks every game, but rather the plan being implemented is a “read-and-react” offense, where constant ball and player movement are paramount. It’s pretty safe to assume Drummond won’t look to take any shots behind the arc, as he’ll constantly look overpower his defender on his way to the basket. Griffin will also look to get to the iron, but he’s not averse to dialing from long distance from time to time. Second-year sniper Luke Kennard, on the other hand, is going to look to shake his man and set up shop all along the arc, while Reggie Jackson will attempt to exploit his quickness by running his defender into screens on his way to the hoop.

Key for Chicago defensively will be the team’s ability to effectively communicate with one another in calling out screens and keeping track of their assigned man.

Offensively, the Bulls have to spread out to open up the middle of the floor, stationing at least three shooters far apart along the 3-point arc in order to draw Detroit’s defense to the perimeter and away from the basket. It is vital the Bulls also liberally share the ball with one another, keeping all five players involved in the action. Another important facet will be to stay poised whenever Detroit’s defense attempts to get physical. Chicago simply can’t allow themselves to be rattled or lose control of their emotions. For the offense to run smoothly the ball has to skip from player-to-player, hopping from side-to-side in order to make Detroit spend extra energy.

Lastly the Bulls must also to take advantage of every opportunity to drive the ball deep into the paint and attack the basket. To come out on top Chicago is going to have to make their way to the free throw line (and convert) much more often than they did the other night in Philadelphia.