The Chicago Bulls head to the Deep South to begin a three game road trip with the first stop in Atlanta to take on the surging Hawks. Tonight's contest is the second of three this season between the Bulls and Hawks. Chicago captured the first game, 91-86, at the United Center back on October 26th. The Bulls snared a season-high 62 rebounds, including 17 offensive boards. Every starter notched double-digits led by center Robin Lopez's 16 points. In fact, three Bulls posted double-doubles: David Nwaba (15 points / 11 rebounds), Lauri Markkanen (14 points / 12 rebounds) and Justin Holiday (13 points / 10 rebounds).
The Hawks enter tonight having won two in a row, and three of their last four games. On Wednesday, Kent Bazemore swished a jumper with just 2.1 seconds left on the clock to lift Atlanta to a 94-93 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. Bazemore, a 6'5" shooting guard, led the way with 20 points while rookie John Collins contributed 18 points off the bench. Point guard Dennis Schroder had a tough shooting night, going 4-of-16 from the field, but the crafty floor general played a major role in the victory nonetheless as he dished 15 assists without committing a turnover.
The Bulls come into this evening looking to rebound from a 119-112 home loss to the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, also on Wednesday. Reserve forward Niko Mirotic led Chicago's attack with 24 points, while Lopez and Kris Dunn each contributed 16. The loss snapped a three-game win streak.
As for tonight, the Bulls are going to have to play a hardnosed, physical game. It's vital they come out of the gates fast and produce an aggressive pace by exceeding Atlanta's energy in every way imaginable.
Offensively Chicago wants to strike quickly with everyone on the floor playing an important role. Thus in order for the offense to click the Bulls need to exploit their overall speed and athleticism by going hard after every loose ball and rebound and relentlessly getting into transition in order to post easy scores. The ball has to be freely shared, bouncing from player-to-player, and from side-to-side to generate open looks at the basket. Each time Chicago grabs a defensive rebound look for Zach LaVine, Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine and David Nwaba to immediately take off for the other end of the floor looking for an outlet pass. If they can't post a layup in transition, then look for them to station themselves evenly apart along the 3-point arc to draw Atlanta's defense away from the basket.
While freely skipping the ball between one another, LaVine, Holliday, Nwaba, Valentine and Jerian Grant will need to eye opportunities to drive deep into the paint to force Atlanta's defense to react. If the Hawks slide towards the basket or attempt to trap or double-team, Chicago's attackers will have to make an adjustment of their own by quickly finding an open teammate out on the perimeter for an uncontested look at the hoop.
Chicago's plan each game is to launch somewhere between 85-to-90 shots, with at least 30 from beyond the 3-point arc. In order to achieve these goals the Bulls have to stay committed to playing fast, but at the same time stay under control. They have to keep turnovers in check while forcing the Hawks to continuously shift and expend extra energy.
Defensively for the Bulls, they'll have to keep their heads up and the lines of communication open. Collectively Chicago must do a good job of talking and calling out switches and be quick to fill driving and passing lanes whenever Atlanta attempts to go on the attack.
Unfortunately the Bulls will be without starting point guard Kris Dunn tonight. Dunn didn't travel with the team Friday after suffering a concussion during the final minutes of Wednesday's Golden State game. Jerian Grant is expected to take his place in the lineup and will no doubt have his hands full in slowing Schroder down. Zach LaVine should also see time at the point, and don't be surprised if David Nwaba ends up shadowing the Hawks lead guard from time-to-time, especially if Schroder ends up having a good night at the office.
In short, Chicago is going to have to come out of the gates quickly and stay aggressive throughout the evening. It's vital the Bulls establish a fast pace and keep everyone mentally and physically engaged at both ends of the floor. They have to show up with an uncompromising attitude, and commit to outhustling and outmuscling the Hawks in every way.