Keys to the Game: Bulls at Heat (03.29.18)

This evening the Bulls and the Miami Heat get together in South Florida to close out their four-game, season-series. The Heat won the first two matchups, 97-91 in Miami on November 1st, and 100-93 in Chicago on November 26th. Chicago was able to turn the tables in the third contest at the United Center, 119-111, in mid-January. Chicago's Justin Holiday, hit a career-high seven 3s en route to putting up 25 points, while collectively, the Bulls played unselfishly by handing out 27 assists and out-rebounded Miami 45-40 to avoid a three-game losing streak to the Heat.

The Heat come into tonight's contest riding a wave of excitement after tuning-up LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, 98-79, right here in South Beach. Kelly Olynyk came off Miami's bench and posted a game-high 19 points, while former Bulls guard Dwyane Wade blocked a couple of James's shots in leading a stifling Heat defense. Wade ended up with four blocks and 12 points on the night, while Josh Richardson and fellow ex-Bull James Johnson each scored 15.

Miami has now won 10 of its last 11 home games, and with a record of 40-35, they sit as the 7th seed in the East with just seven games left on the year.

As for the Bulls, life hasn't been quite as sunny lately as they enter looking to end a six-game losing streak after getting thumped in Houston Tuesday, 118-86. The lone bright spot of Chicago's trek to South Texas was rookie Lauri Markkanen was able to return and notch 22 points after sitting out the previous game in Detroit with back spasms last Saturday.The Rockets essentially controlled the game from start to finish, leading 31-23 after one, and running out to a 60-39 advantage by halftime. Sean Kilpatrick, whom the Bulls signed to a three-year contract Monday, scored 12 points and grabbed 2 rebounds in his Chicago debut while forward Noah Vonleh posted a double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds.

If the Bulls are going to get back on track this evening they are going to have to play a hard-nosed, physical game. As mentioned above, the Heat are feeling self-assured, thus Chicago will have to come out of the gates fast and exceed Miami's energy by quickly establishing an aggressive tone and pace to the game.

Chicago's offensive schemes are designed for quick strikes with everyone playing an important role. Thus for the offense to run smoothly the Bulls have to take advantage of their speed and athleticism by hitting the glass hard and looking to run at every opportunity. They need to persistently attack early in possessions in hopes of not giving the defense time to set-up. The ball also has to be shared, crisply jumping from one side of the court to the other and from player-to-player in order to generate uncontested looks at the basket.

Thus whenever Chicago seizes a defensive rebound look for the Bulls to quickly push the ball up the floor and position shooters evenly along the 3-point arc to draw Miami's defense away from the basket. Chicago's primary ballhandlers, particularly Cameron Payne, Jerian Grant, David Nwaba, Justin Holiday and Denzel Valentine, will need to doggedly drive the ball into the paint to force the defense to overreact. If Miami slides down toward the basket and/or attempts to trap or double-team, Chicago's attackers have to adjust on the fly and quickly find an open teammate out on the perimeter for a clean look at the rim.

In short, the Bulls have to come out of the gates fast and stay aggressive from the opening tip until the final buzzer. They have to establish a speedy pace and keep everyone mentally and physically engaged at both ends of the floor. If they can accomplish these objectives, there's a good chance they can be the last team standing tonight when the scoreboard horn blasts for the last time tonight.