Tonight, the Chicago Bulls (6-14) close out a three-game Western Conference road swing with a stop in Sacramento, California to take on the Kings (8-10) at Golden 1 Center. Chicago hits the hardwood hoping to avoid a fourth straight loss, while Sacramento looks to continue riding a wave of momentum after having won eight of their last 13 games, including overcoming a 17-point halftime deficit to upset the Denver Nuggets, 100-97, in overtime on Saturday.
The last time Chicago played was Friday in Portland where the Bulls and Trail Blazers locked up in a tight, hard-fought game most of the night, with Portland converting key plays down the stretch to pull out a 107-103 victory. Once again Zach LaVine led the way for Chicago with 28 points, while Wendell Carter Jr. chipped in 16 and nine rebounds. Damian Lillard drove the Blazers with 28 as well, followed Carmelo Anthony's 23 and 11 rebounds. However, the game-changer was Portland big man Hassan Whiteside who dominated the paint at the defensive end with a 15 rebound and franchise-record setting 10 block effort.
For the Bulls to bounce back before coming home later in the week, they're going to need to be aggressive at both ends of the floor this evening right from the opening tip. A tenacious rebounding effort — especially at the defensive end — will certainly help ignite Chicago's running game.
The Bulls must share the ball, making sure it freely skips from player-to-player and from side-to-side while at the same time seeking opportunities to exploit cracks in Sacramento's defense. All five on the floor must be willing to take the action directly to the rim every single time a lane to the basket opens. Chicago comes into tonight ranking near the bottom of the league scoring (25th/106.1) and tied with Orlando for dead last in shooting at 42.3%. However, where they can make some noise tonight is in the paint. The Bulls rank 4th in the league in second-chance scoring (15.0) and lead the NBA in both steals (9.8) and points off turnovers (21.9).
For the Bulls to reach their potential they must approach every game with a blue-collar mindset. They must aggressively battle on the boards while also never fail to hustle and/or fight tooth-and-nail for every basket, rebound and loose ball.
Before the start of the season many picked Sacramento as a dark horse playoff team. However, they'll take the floor a bit banged up as last year's No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III, as well high-powered point guard De'Aaron Fox, are out of action with injuries, as is veteran swingman Trevor Ariza. Yet the Kings still have plenty of firepower available in the likes of Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield. The 6'8 Barnes poured in 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting against Denver the last time out, while Hield, a 6'4 fifth-year sniper leads Sacramento in scoring at 20.5 points, hitting 37.5% from downtown. Last week in Boston, Hield notched a career-high 41 against Boston, hitting 15-of-26 from field, including going 11-for-21 from behind the arc, in a 103-102 loss to the Celtics. Obviously, the Bulls cannot afford to lose sight of either Barnes or Hield tonight.
Defensively the Kings have also stepped up of late. In their last five, they've held opponents to 103.8 points per game, sixth best in the league, and have virtually shut down the 3-point arc, allowing foes to hit just 30.8% from long distance, the second-best mark in the NBA.