This afternoon the Chicago Bulls make their way to the California capital to take on the Sacramento Kings in the second of a busy three-games in four days West Coast swing. For the Kings, today's contest marks the start of a four-game homestand after returning home from a four-game Eastern Conference road trip.
The Bulls and Kings met earlier this season in Chicago with Sacramento running away with a 108-89 victory. It was Sacramento's third straight victory over Chicago.
After getting off to a slow start in the opening half in which they scored just 45 points by shooting 17-for-45 (37.8%) from the field and 4-for-17 (23.5%) from three-point range, the Kings found their stroke at the start of the third quarter, hitting 13-of-22 (59.0%) including seven 3s to tally 36 points in the stanza. Sacramento's defense also tightened up, forcing Chicago to commit eight turnovers and holding the Bulls to 18 points. Chicago could only muster another 15 points in the fourth frame while Sacramento doubled that total with 30 in capturing the 19-point victory.
Second-year Kings floor general De'Aaron Fox went 8-for-16 from the field in posting a game-high 25 to go along with six assists and four steals while Willie Cauley-Stein finished with 11 points and 16 rebounds for a double-double. Zach LaVine led the Bulls with a team-best 19 points.
In order to gain a series split this afternoon the Bulls will have to play fast and unselfishly, making the ball jump from player-to-player and from side-to-side, getting everyone involved. Chicago needs to force the Kings to scramble on defense, making them continually run from spot-to-spot in order to defend the paint as well as the perimeter.
Collectively, the Bulls must also be willing to get physical and sport a gritty attitude, especially when it comes to battling on the boards and going after every loose ball. They have to stay focused and poised and allow the game to flow, calmly adjusting to whatever situation pops up.
Both on offense and defense the Bulls need to be bold, establishing a readiness and a persistent physicality and eagerness to attack the basket whenever an opportunity presents itself.
To achieve success Chicago must regularly tap into its wealth of speed and athleticism, and attempt to turn the game into a track meet. They have to capture every missed shot they can get a hand on and immediately streak to the other end of the floor to post easy scores before Sacramento has time to set up its defense.
The Kings are an exciting and explosive offensive team led by third-year shooting guard Buddy Hield (21.1 points, 43.6% 3FG), the lighting-quick De'Aaron Fox (17.5 points, 7.3 assists) and savvy veteran forward Harrison Barnes (16.9 points, 38.2% 3FG). There's also 2018 No. 2 overall draft pick Marvin Bagley III (13.9 points, 7.2 rebounds) to contend with off the bench. For most of the season the Kings were a surprise team flirting with a possible playoff berth, but a recent tough stretch saw them fall below .500 for the first time since early January. As of this writing they're five games out of the 8th and final Western Conference seed with only 14 more games left to play this year.
From the opening tip until the final buzzer Chicago has to be willing to outhustle and outwork the Kings in every phase of the game. Sacramento has a lot to play for this afternoon, so the Bulls should expect them to come out determined to get back on track for a serious playoff run.