The Chicago Bulls are back on the road this evening visiting the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in the first of four meetings between the two teams scheduled for this season. Both the Bulls and Knicks are playing their fourth games of the year, and each is coming off a brutal home opener this past Saturday.
After splitting their first two games on the road against Charlotte and Memphis respectively last week, the Bulls returned home excited to play in front of their home fans over the weekend but ended up shooting an ugly 29.9 percent from the field, losing 108-84 to the defending NBA Champion Toronto Raptors.
Chicago started off on the right foot, holding their own and even leading the Raptors by five points midway through the second stanza, but soon thereafter the wheels fell off, as Toronto went on a 17-4 run to close out the half and led 48-40 after 24 minutes.
Unfortunately for the Bulls the Raptors were just getting started, as Toronto went on to outscore home team 60-44 in the second half to run away with an easy 24-point victory.
Pascal Siakam led the Raptors with 19 points (7-of-15 shooting), six rebounds, four assists and a steal, while former Indiana standout OG Anunoby followed suit with 17 points (7-of-11 shooting), six rebounds and four blocks. Meanwhile Wendell Carter Jr. led Chicago's effort with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Zach LaVine ended up as the only other Bull to reach double-digits with 11 points — that after scoring 37 the night before against the Grizzlies in Memphis.
The Knicks come into tonight winless after getting blown out by Boston on Saturday, 118-95, in front of an angry and disappointed sellout crowd at MSG. Much like the Bulls, New York was also holding their own in the opening half, but Boston eventually got rolling, outscoring the Knicks 72-44 over the final 24 minutes of the game, including 36-19 in the fourth quarter, to come away with the win. The loss spoiled another stellar effort from Knicks rookie RJ Barrett who notched 26 points against the Cs and is now averaging 21 points per game while shooting an impressive 51 percent from the field overall and a ridiculous 53.8 percent from behind the arc.
Arguably the No. 3 overall pick out of Duke has looked better than advertised over his first three games as a pro, but where Barrett has struggled is in keeping track of the ball, committing 13 turnovers while handing out only eight assists. However, Barrett isn't the only New Yorker having trouble with turnovers and finding open teammates. Against Boston, New York finished the night with only 15 assists while also committing 25 turnovers. It was the second straight night they failed to reach at least 20 helpers (17 vs. Brooklyn on Friday), while also committing 26 turnovers.
As for tonight, look for the Bulls to try to play fast and be aggressive right from the opening tip. Chicago is at their best when they establish a speedy pace and immediately get in the face of opponents on the defensive end. It's also essential they look to control the boards at both ends of the floor — especially so on the defensive side — as doing so will help fire up the team's running game.
As they often demonstrated during the preseason, the Bulls will need to generously share the ball, making it jump from player-to-player and from side-to-side, oftentimes making the "extra pass" in order to find an open look at the basket. For Chicago to be to be effective, the need to spread the floor and keep everyone involved in the action.
The Bulls will have to station shooters all around the 3-point arc, forcing New York's defense to choose between either leaving the paint exposed for drives to the hoop or allowing a shooter to be wide open out on the perimeter for an uncontested jumper from behind the arc. If the Knicks opt to stretch themselves out to the perimeter, the Bulls, especially the ballhandlers, will need to be willing to take the action to the front of rim and make their way to the free throw line for extra scoring opportunities.
Defensively Chicago cannot allow New York to establish an easy rhythm. Chicago's team defense must be aggressive and tied together to deny the Knicks the possibility to post easy scores. The Bulls needs to be the aggressors this evening by coming to work in a nasty mood. Chicago has to be physical and also stay focused at both ends of the floor to give themselves the best opportunity to come away with a much-needed victory.