Tonight the Bulls visit the Queen City of Charlotte, North Carolina for the second time this season to take on the Charlotte Hornets in the third of four scheduled get-togethers. Chicago won each of the earlier contests, the first of which took place at the United Center on November 17, 123-120 and then a couple of weeks later down in Charlotte on December 8, 119-111 in OT. Bulls swingman Justin Holiday shot a blistering 10-of-15 overall, including 4-of-7 from distance to post 27 points in the opener. Kris Dunn came off the Bulls' bench that night to chip in 22 points, five rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Charlotte's Kemba Walker was all but unstoppable - that is until Chicago rookie Lauri Markkanen forced Walker to miss a potential game winning layup with just under three seconds left in the first gathering - still Walker led all scorers with 47 points.
Chicago won the second game behind three double-double efforts from Markkanen (24 points/12 rebounds), Dunn (20/12 assists) and Robin Lopez (19/10 rebounds). The Bulls also took control of the boards that night, grabbing 56 rebounds to Charlotte's 50. Dwight Howard led the Hornets with 25 points, 20 rebounds and six blocks. Walker also added 20 points and five assists, but Chicago outscored Charlotte 13-5 in overtime to claim victory.
Tonight the Bulls are completing the second half of a back-to-back set after getting thumped by the Nets, 104-87, last night in Brooklyn. Dunn shot 9-of-15 from the field, including 1-of-1 from downtown to lead Chicago with 23 points, while Markkanen chipped in 19 points and six rebounds.
Much like the Minnesota game on Saturday, the Bulls fought their way back from a double-digit deficit at the start of the game to hold a 51-49 lead at halftime last night, but Brooklyn went on to score the first nine points in the third quarter and never looked back. The Nets' win snapped an eight-game losing streak. Brooklyn shot a 63.6% in the decisive third, outscoring Chicago 35-19 and holding the Bulls to just 36.8% from the field.
Tonight won't be easy for Chicago as the Hornets have won four in a row, the last of which was a 114-98 pounding of Detroit over the weekend. The victory improved Charlotte's overall record to 27-33 and keeps them in the hunt for a playoff berth. The key to Charlotte's win over the Pistons was some outstanding play from their reserves. Charlotte's bench sparked a 14-0 run early in the second quarter as they went on to outscore Detroit 38-27. During that stretch Chicago native Frank Kaminsky notched six points while fellow backups Cody Zeller and Traveon Graham added four apiece. In three games since returning from the All-Star break, Kaminsky is averaging 13.3 points on 44.8% shooting, including 62.5% from 3-point range.
In order for Chicago to right the ship this evening they will have to come out of the gates fast, focused and determined. The Bulls can't lose confidence if their first few shots miss the mark. They have to keep turnovers in check while consistently pushing the ball up the floor and freely sharing it from player-to-player and from side-to-side.
To that end they are going to need to open up the floor by stationing shooters evenly all along the 3-point arc to force Charlotte's defense to cover a lot of ground. Dunn will need to set his mind to attack-mode and take advantage of every opportunity to drive the ball right to the cup. The Hornets have one of the game's top big man defenders in Dwight Howard, a 7'0" giant who roams the paint and isn't shy about getting physical with anyone entering his area. Howard is prone to getting into foul trouble, thus Chicago's attackers can't back down from the challenge, as they'll need to relentlessly test Howard's resolve and agility at the rim.
And speaking of the rim, as a team the Bulls will once again need to crash the boards hard at both ends of the floor. To give themselves a chance of coming out on top, Chicago must take command of the glass, especially at the defensive end, as doing so often leads to fastbreaks and easy scoring opportunities.
As a general rule, the Bulls aim to shoot between 85-to-90 shots every game, with 30 (or more) launched from beyond the 3-point arc. In order to achieve these objectives they have to play at a fast pace. They must quickly advance the ball up the court and keep it moving, making it hop from player-to-player and from one side of the floor to the other.
To generate open looks at the basket they have to force Charlotte's defense into constantly shifting. They must draw the Hornets defense out to the perimeter in order to open driving lanes to the basket. Generously sharing the ball also gets and keeps everyone involved in the action.
In short, the Bulls have to come out of the gates fast and play with an edge throughout the evening. To beat a hot Hornets squad on its home floor they have to outwork, outhustle and out-execute Charlotte in every phase of tonight's game.