Keys to the Game: Bulls at Bucks (12.15.17)

Tonight the Bulls visit Milwaukee to take on the Bucks in the first of four meetings this season. Milwaukee comes in looking to bounce back after falling on the road Wednesday night in New Orleans, 115-108. Despite the loss the Bucks have still won six of their last eight games, and have scored 100+ points 10 times in a row.

The Bulls hit the hardwood looking to stretch an impressive four-game winning streak to five. Chicago knocked-off Utah at the United Center Wednesday, 103-100. Niko Mirotic led the way with a season-high 29 points while also pulling down a team-leading nine rebounds. The 6'10 forward has led Chicago in scoring three straight times and rebounding the last two. Mirotic, who has only played four games this season, is averaging 19.5 points, 5.8 rebounds while shooting a blistering 57.1% from the field and 52.2% from behind the 3-point arc.

Just as they have each time during this hot streak, the Bulls will need to come out of the blocks fast and establish themselves as the aggressors from the opening tip and never slow down. Defensively, they will once need to keep the lines of communication open and collectively react whenever Milwaukee looks to go to the rim.

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is having an MVP season, putting up 29.9 points and 10.3 rebounds a night. Affectionately dubbed "The Greek Freak," Antetokounmpo, who checks in at 6'11" and 235-pounds, is a matchup nightmare. The 23-year old, 5th-year pro literally can do it all. So far no team has been able to keep him under control as he's scored 20+ points in 24 of Milwaukee's 26 games, and 30+ points 12 times. In the loss to New Orleans the other night, he notched 32 points, 10 rebounds and 5 steals over 42 minutes.

But Antetokounmpo isn't the only offensive threat the Bucks employ. Milwaukee's Khris Middleton ranks second in scoring (19.9) while logging 37 minutes a game. Middleton is also a capable long distance shooter, knocking down 3's to the tune of 36.8%. The team's third offensive threat is recent pick-up Eric Bledsoe who averages 17.8 points and 4.3 assists. Bledsoe is an aggressive 6'1" point guard who arrived in town just after the season tipped-off from Phoenix via trade. He is fearless when it comes to driving the ball deep into the paint and attacking the heart of the defense.

As a team the Bucks rank 9th in the league in points in the paint. Thus an important key for Chicago this evening will be to try to keep Milwaukee out on the perimeter and not allow them to get anywhere near the rim.

To that end, Chicago is going to need to wrestle control of the boards — at both ends of the court. The Bulls rank 11th in rebounding, pulling down 44.6 a game, while Milwaukee is dead last with a mark of 38.2. Since Chicago has had trouble putting points on the board for most of the season (they rank 27th at 97.6 per game) they'll need to rule the paint and the glass, especially at the defensive end, as doing so usually leads to easy scores by way of put-backs and/or fastbreak opportunities.

In general, the Bulls would like to launch anywhere from 85 to 90 shots, with 30 or more from beyond the 3-point arc. However, in order to achieve those goals they have play at a fast pace. They have to swiftly move the ball up the court and share it, making it hop from player-to-player to generate scoring opportunities and force the defense to endlessly shift and expend energy.

Another important key for Chicago will be to open up the floor by stationing shooters evenly about the 3-point arc in order to draw defenders away from the basket and open driving lanes to the cup. When those lanes open, Chicago's guards, in particular Kris Dunn, Jerian Grant as well as David Nwaba, will need aggressively go on the attack by taking the action to the rim. If Milwaukee's defense collapses, the ball then has to either find its way to an open sniper hovering out on the arc or Dunn/Grant/Nwaba need to stubbornly get to the basket to draw a foul and make their way to the charity stripe.

Generously sharing the ball also forces everyone offensively to get involved in the action, and makes defenses scramble and/or break down.

In short, Chicago's task is to hit the floor running from the opening tip and never let up. To create scoring opportunities, the Bulls need to share the ball and make sure everyone is involved in the action. Defensively they must show up with a hardnosed mindset, and commit to outhustling the Bucks in every way possible.

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