Tonight the Chicago Bulls visit the Queen City to take on the Charlotte Hornets for the second time in three weeks. Chicago came out on top in the first gathering held at the United Center, 123-120. Swingman Justin Holiday shot a blistering 10-of-15 overall, including 4-of-7 from distance to post a season-high 27 points. Teammate Kris Dunn came off the bench to chip in 22 points, five rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Charlotte All-Star guard Kemba Walker was all but unstoppable - that is until Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen forced him to adjust in midair and miss a potential game winning layup with just under three seconds left - in leading all scorers with 47 points over 38 minutes.
The Bulls come in tonight aiming to get back on track after falling on the road to the Indiana Pacers Wednesday, 98-96. Frustratingly, Chicago led the entire game with the exception of the final 30.1 seconds. That's when Pacers guard Victor Oladipo nailed a clutch three-pointer to put Indy in control. The loss was Chicago's 10th in-a-row, and worst yet, it was the third time during this rough stretch they blew a lead of at least 17 points.
For 3 1/2 quarters, the Bulls were the aggressors, setting a hardnosed tone from the start and doing a fantastic job offensively in sharing the ball and effectively denying Indiana every opportunity to get on a roll thanks to terrific team defense. Point guard Kris Dunn enjoyed another strong game, finishing with 18 points, six rebounds and handing out six assists. David Nwaba came off the bench, and as usual, provided a spark at both ends of the floor. Unfortunately Indy was able to turn the tables thanks to a 17-4 run during the game's final seven minutes as the Bulls went cold, missing 9-of-10 shots to go along with four very untimely turnovers.
In order to right the ship tonight Chicago will once again have to come out of the gates focused and determined and not allow themselves to lose confidence - especially if their first few shots miss the mark. They also have to do a good job of taking care of the ball while establishing a fast pace, persistently driving the ball up the floor in a hurry and freely sharing it from player-to-player and from side-to-side.
To that end Chicago will also need to open up the floor, stationing shooters evenly all over in order to force Charlotte's defense to cover a lot of ground. Once again Dunn and fellow point guard Jerian Grant need to set their minds to attack-mode in eyeing opportunities to take the action right to the cup. The Hornets have one of the NBA's top big man defenders in Dwight Howard, a 7'0” giant who loves to roam the paint and has never been shy about getting physical with anyone attempting a layup. Because of that approach, Howard is prone to getting into foul trouble. Chicago's guards can't back down from that challenge, as they'll need to relentlessly test Howard's resolve 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. In order to give themselves a chance, Chicago must take command of the glass, especially at the defensive end, as doing so leads to fastbreaks and easy scoring opportunities.
As a general rule, the Bulls' goal is to attempt between 85 to 90 shots, with 30 or more coming from beyond the 3-point arc. In order to achieve those objectives they have to stick to playing at a fast pace. They have to quickly get 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 the Bulls have to force Charlotte's defense to constantly shift and expend a great deal of energy. They have to draw the Hornets outside and away from the paint to open driving lanes to the basket. Generously sharing the ball also gets everyone involved in the action.
In short, Chicago must come out of the gates fast and aggressive and never relent. To beat the Hornets on their home floor they must commit to outworking, outhustling and out-executing Charlotte in every phase of tonight's game.