Keys to the Game: Bulls at Clippers (03.15.19)

The Chicago Bulls (19-50) tip-off a busy three games in four nights West Coast slate with a final visit to the Staples Center to take on the Los Angeles Clippers (39-30). LA won the first matchup in January, 106-101, at the United Center. Clippers super-sub Lou Williams stormed off the bench to notch the first triple-double of his career with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 29 points, while rookie Chandler Hutchison posted his first double-double, chipping in 12 points and snagging 12 rebounds in 41 minutes. Unfortunately that was the last time Hutchison has been able to play this season as it was discovered afterwards he had suffered a serious foot injury and would need to sit out between four to eight weeks.

Speaking of injuries, LaVine has missed Chicago’s last two games due to a right patellar tendon strain. However he is expected to jump back into action tonight. Teammate Otto Porter Jr. has also been battling a knee issue of his own, but like LaVine, Porter Jr. is also expected to take the floor.

Having won eight of their last 11 games the Clippers enter as the 8th seed in the West. The Bulls, on the other hand, officially were eliminated from postseason play after losing to the Lakers their last time out on Tuesday in Chicago. All-in-all Chicago has now lost five of its last six.

In order for the Bulls to get back on track and pull-off an upset this evening they’re going to need to come out focused and play fast and selflessly.

It is always vital Chicago consistently make the ball skip from side-to-side and from player-to-player, getting everyone involved in the action. Their willingness to freely move the ball will force the Clippers into burning an inordinate amount of energy in defending both the paint and the perimeter. Without hesitation the Bulls have to stay active whenever the ball is in their hands, making LA constantly look over its shoulder for cutters making their way to the basket and/or shooters setting up for open looks behind the 3-point arc.

Collectively, Chicago also has to establish a willingness to play physical and dogged, offensively and defensively. They must look to exploit their team speed and athleticism by aggressively defending their assigned man and also go to battle for control of the boards. Doing such opens the door for the Bulls to dictate a fast paced game. Fighting for and controlling the glass helps ignite the fastbreak game. Capturing defensive rebounds and relentlessly stampeding to the other end of the floor for easy scores before LA’s defense has time to set up will create momentum for the rest of the evening.

The Clippers are putting up an average 114.4 points a game on 46.9% shooting from the field. They’re also a pretty solid 3-point shooting squad, at least percentage wise, in that they rank 2nd in that category at 38.6%. However, they attempt the second least number of long shots at 25.3 (the Bulls attempt slightly more at 26.6). Still, having said that, through six games this month, the Clippers have begun firing away from downtown a bit more, launching 27.2 trey attempts per game and connecting on a blistering 44.8%. Thus Chicago will need to pay a good deal of attention to the arc this evening and aggressively run shooters off the bend and deny any opportunity for LA’s snipers, in particular Danilo Gallinari (19.3 points, 43.5% 3FG%) and rookie Landry Shamet (42.0% 3FG%), to slip into a comfort zone from far away.

Where the rubber really meets the road, though, is the fact that the Clippers do a great job of getting to the free throw line on a nightly basis—more than any other team in the league—at 28.7 free lobs a game. The aforementioned Lou Williams is the leader of the pack in this area, knifing his way to the hoop and getting to the stripe at a clip of 6.6 a night and converting on 88% of his tosses. Gallinari is also someone who finds a way to cause problems from the free throw line, visiting the stripe 5.8 times a game and making 90.3%.

From the opening tip until the final buzzer this evening the Bulls will have to outhustle and out-execute the Clippers. There’s no excuse for LA not to come in hungry and determined to stay on track for a playoff berth. This is a well-coached, talented squad that is more than capable of going on an impressive run down the final stretch of the season. Chicago will need to bring their “A” game if they’re going to end up as the last team standing.

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