Keys to the Game: Bulls at Cavaliers (12.23.18)

Wins are difficult to come by for the Chicago Bulls, but the degree of difficulty may decrease at times if they can find ways to get Lauri Markkanen going.

The Bulls own three wins since he made his season debut Dec. 1 and it does not appear to be a coincidence that Markkanen's three-most productive showings are in those wins.

Two days after getting a big night from Markkanen, the Bulls try to win consecutive games for the first time this season when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday.

Chicago is 3-7 since Markkanen returned from an elbow injury on Dec. 1 at Houston. He scored 32 in Friday's 90-80 home victory over the Orlando Magic and in Chicago's three wins since he came back, Markkanen is averaging 26.3 points while shooting 58 percent (29-of-50).

"Well, I just think he was aggressive," Chicago coach Jim Boylen said. "I think we tried to move him around a little bit, get him to his spots. He's a great kid, he's coachable. He wants to do the right thing. He's coming back ... so it's gonna be a process. He's still a young player. But he was competitive and he was aggressive. And if you're that big and that skilled and you do that, you got a chance to have a good game. And he did. I'm really proud of him."

On Friday, Markkanen shot 12 of 20 after missing six of his first seven shots. He hit three 3-pointers in the second quarter, made eight straight shots at one point and posted his third career 30-point game.

"I think that's part of just getting my legs back under me," he said. "Knowing they're going to run me off (the 3-point line), so I feel like I have some explosiveness. I was out a long time. Now I feel fresher."

Markkanen's best game occurred two days after he took a season-low six shots in a 97-93 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

"We emphasized making sure he gets the ball," Chicago guard Kris Dunn said. "He's a great player for us. When he's aggressive, good things happen."

Following up productive games has been the issue for Markkanen.

He scored 24 on Dec. 7 against Oklahoma City in a two-point win but went 3-for-10 in a team-record 56-point loss to Boston the next night. On Dec. 15, Markkanen scored 23 in the comeback win at San Antonio but in the 25-point loss at Oklahoma City on Monday, he was 6 of 17 from the floor.

Following up their previous six wins also is a problem for the Bulls. In their seven previous attempts at winning consecutive games, Chicago has lost by an average of 22.2 points.

Cleveland (8-25) shares the same record as Chicago. One of its losses was a 99-98 setback in Chicago on Nov. 10.

Since falling short in the first meeting, the Cavaliers are 7-14 in their last 21 games.

They recorded their last win on a game-winner by Larry Nance. Jr on Tuesday in Indiana but followed it up with consecutive double-digit losses to Charlotte and Toronto.

In Friday's 126-110 loss at Toronto, the Cavaliers allowed 52.7 percent shooting and a 37-point night to Kawhi Leonard. It was the 14th time they allowed at least 50 percent shooting.

Cleveland also encountered a zone defense at portions of Friday's loss for the second straight game. While the Cavaliers shot 48 percent, they missed 15 of 24 3-pointers.

"If a team is struggling shooting the ball that's exactly what you do," Nance said. "You pack the lane and make them take those shots. Until we prove otherwise, we are going to be seeing a lot of zone."

While the Cavaliers may see the zone defense at portions, it appears Rodney Hood will not be available Sunday. Hood was limited to 17 minutes Friday because of a sore left foot.

"He came in at halftime and I know our trainer was looking at him," Cleveland coach Larry Drew said. "He said he wanted to give it a go. I saw at the start of the third quarter he was still noticeably limping. Just to see if it would loosen up, but he just wasn't effective with the foot."

Without Hood, the Cavaliers will hope Jordan Clarkson is among those who can remain productive. Clarkson led Cleveland with 20 points Friday and has six games with at least 20 points this month.

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