Tonight the Chicago Bulls visit Madison Square Garden for the first time to take on the New York Knicks. This will be the third of four meetings between these two storied franchises this season.
Chicago won both earlier matchups at the United Center. Back on December 12th, the Bulls were able to hold off a late New York charge to post an exciting 104-102 victory. Kris Dunn led the way with 17 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, while Niko Mirotic posted 19 points off the bench. New York's Kristaps Porzingas led all scorers with 23. In the second get-together on December 27th, New York started strong but ultimately surrendered a 15-point lead to lose 92-87. Once again Dunn sparkled with 17 points, five rebounds and five assists while rookie Lauri Markkanen recorded 12 points and veterans Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez contributed 11 each.
New York returns to Gotham City this evening after knocking off the Mavericks in Dallas on Sunday, 100-96. The Knicks have had a tough time on the road, winning just four of 18 this season. But when they take the home hardwood it has been a completely different story as so far they have compiled an impressive 15-7 mark at the Garden.
This evening Chicago is going to have to establish themselves as the aggressors from the opening tip. They must hit the floor in a scrappy mood and not allow the Knicks easy scoring opportunities, be they layups, uncontested put-backs, or open jumpers. Chicago must also step up its defensive effort along the 3-point arc, especially whenever Porzingis or former Bulls sharpshooter Doug McDermott linger around the bend. The Bulls' guards are going to need to persistently pressure the ball while everyone else sticks close to their assigned man to deny New York the opportunity to slip into a comfortable rhythm.
Another key for the Bulls is to practice patience whenever they have the ball by not rushing or launching quick, contested shots, but rather focus their attention to keeping turnovers to a minimum while at the same time constantly skipping the ball from player-to-player and from one side of the court to the other. Thus whenever they are on offense look for the Bulls to plant two to three shooters evenly along the 3-point arc to force New York's defense to drift away from the basket, which in turn will open paths to the rim. Kris Dunn, along with Jerian Grant, David Nwaba, Justin Holiday and Denzel Valentine will need to be in attack mode throughout the game and aggressively look drive the ball deep into the paint to create confusion for the Knicks' defense. If New York adjusts and slides back towards the basket and/or attempts to trap or double-team any of Chicago's ballhandlers, those attackers have to adjust as well by keeping their heads up and eyes open in locating and crisply passing the ball to an freed-up teammate who'll have a good look at the hoop.
In short, the Bulls need to come out of the gates fast and establish an aggressive pace from the start, keeping everyone mentally and physically engaged at both ends of the floor. If they can accomplish most of these objectives, Chicago will give itself a terrific opportunity to come away with another victory over a longtime rival.