Tonight the Chicago Bulls visit Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Knicks in the first of three games scheduled between the two teams this season. Both the Bulls and Knicks come in looking to end losing skids, as Chicago has dropped its last four in a row while New York has lost seven of 10 games played this year, included one yesterday to Washington in our Nation’s Capital, 108-95.
For the Knicks, no starter notched more than Damyean Dotson’s 11 points against the Wizards, who entered into the contest sporting a 1-7 mark. Veteran center Enes Kanter posted a team-high 18 points and 12 rebounds off the bench for New York, who shot a miserable 42 percent from the field overall, including 18.5 percent from 3-point range.
As for the Bulls, they came up short at home against Houston on Saturday, 96-88, capping a 0-4 homestand. Chicago outscored the Rockets in the first, second and fourth quarters, but Houston held the Bulls to just seven points in the third, outscoring them 21-7 in what proved to be the difference maker — well that and the fact that Chicago also committed 19 turnovers (six in the third quarter, and six more in the fourth), many of the ridiculous variety, leading to an extra 21 points for the Rockets — to seal the home team’s fate.
Once again Zach LaVine led the charge for Chicago, putting up a team-high 21 points, including going 12-for-13 from the stripe. It was LaVine’s 11th game in a row of 20+ points scored, a career-best. Rookies Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison also turned heads. Carter registered his second double-double of the season with 14 points and 13 rebounds, to go along with two steals and four blocks. Hutchison, the No. 22 overall pick out of Boise State, posted a career-high 12 points and grabbed four rebounds, dished two assists and snagged two steals in 27 minutes off the pine.
Tonight the Bulls are going to need to show they are capable of learning from past mistakes by tightening up their play at both ends of the floor. Defensively, Chicago needs to bring an endless supply of energy and a stubborn will, vowing that they will not allow New York to outwork or outhustle them in any phase of the game. Every player that steps onto the floor this evening is more than capable of delivering high energy and maximum effort. As battered and bruised as the Bulls are these days without the services of regular starters Kris Dunn (left MCL sprain) and Lauri Markkanen (right elbow sprain), as well as key reserves Bobby Portis (right MCL sprain) and Denzel Valentine (left ankle sprain), they still have to play with an edge. Chicago must be the first to dive on the floor for a loose ball and the first to pull down a rebound in order to give themselves a chance to be the last one standing at the end of the night.
Offensively the Bulls are at their best when they come out of the gates hard and fast, establishing a fast pace from the opening tip and pressure the opposition to keep up with them. It’s especially important the Bulls take command of the defensive glass and look to get out in transition as much as possible. Setting and keeping a fast pace denies the defense opportunities to set up and close off driving and passing lanes to the hoop.
Night in and night out the Bulls have to exploit their youth and athleticism, turning games into track meets. When forced to set up in the halfcourt, the Bulls have to spread out all along the three-point arc to open the middle of the floor and drawing the defense to the perimeter and out from under the basket. It’s also important the ball doesn’t get stuck in anyone’s hands for too long. The ball must be generously shared while at the same time Chicago has to keep turnovers in check. Quick and steady ball movement forces defenses to overreact, scramble and fall apart.
It’s also really important the Bulls make sure to get everyone involved on offense. They can’t afford to slow things down, turning their playbook into a series of one-on-one battles. For the Bulls to outscore opponents the ball needs to jump from player-to-player and from side-to-side to unearth open looks and paths to the basket.
As mentioned earlier the Bulls need to storm out of the gates the moment the game tips off and stay focused and determined throughout — especially when playing on the road — as the energy and momentum they produce will have to come from within.
Even though they are forced to play without the help of four key players, the Bulls can give themselves a real shot of coming out on top this evening by bringing hustle, muscle and plenty of grit to Gotham City.