Keys to the Game: Bulls at Nets (01.31.20)

The Bulls are back in action with a stop in Brooklyn to take on the Nets at the Barclays Center. Chicago currently sits in ninth place in the East, three games behind the Nets for the conference's final playoff spot.

Brooklyn came out on top the first time they met in Chicago back in mid-November, 117-111. Veteran guard Spencer Dinwiddie stepped to forefront to lead the way with a team-high 24 points, while All-Star Kyrie Irving sat out with a right shoulder injury.

For most of the night the game was a tight affair, although Brooklyn got off to a hot start to lead 30-19 after the opening 12 minutes. However, Chicago stormed back to take the lead in the second and held a 56-50 edge at the half. Brooklyn was able to shave two-points off by the end of third quarter, and early on the teams swapped spots five times in the fourth, with Brooklyn eventually pulling ahead for good on a Dinwiddie dunk with eight minutes remaining. In fact, Dinwiddie was on fire down the stretch, scoring 20 of his team-high 24 in the fourth. By the end of the stanza, Brooklyn had outscored Chicago 43-33 to post the six-point victory, the team's seventh win in its last eight games with the Bulls.

Zach LaVine led Chicago with 36 points, although as a team, the Bulls shot a miserable 35.2% from the field, 23.1% from 3-point range and committed 20 turnovers.

Tonight, continues a busy week for Chicago, who defeated San Antonio (110-109) on Monday, but lost in overtime at Indiana (115-106) on Wednesday. After tonight's contest the Bulls travel to Toronto to take on the defending NBA Champs in a Sunday matinee before returning home to meet New Orleans next Thursday.

As for Brooklyn, tonight marks the start of a back-to-back set of games as they'll head to Washington, DC afterwards to catch up with the Wizards in our nation's capital tomorrow night.

After getting off to a solid 15-12 start before Christmas, the Nets have had a rough ride, going 5-14, since. Injuries to key players have played a major part in the team's troubles. Irving has only played in 18 of 46 games this season. Currently he's short of meeting the minimum number of games to qualify for league leader status, but if he did, his 26.8 scoring average would rank ninth in the NBA and fourth in the Eastern Conference.

On Wednesday, Brooklyn successfully defended its home floor by defeating Detroit, 125-115. Dinwiddie came off the bench to post a team-best 28 points, while Taurean Prince (22 points) and Irving (20 points) also provided help in leading a balanced attack. The game marked the fourth time this season the Nets have had three or more players tally 20 or more points, and the fifth time they've scored 125 or more as a team.

A major priority this evening for the Bulls will be checking Brooklyn's 3-point game, as well as the Nets' ability to get to the rim and control the boards at both ends of the floor.

Brooklyn attempts the third-fewest mid-range shots (6.5) yet they attempt the most shots from inside the restricted area (34.2) per night. They come into averaging 37.4 3-point attempts, good for 6th in the NBA, and 50 points scored in the paint (5th), including 13.5 second chance points off put-backs/rebounds. Thus, a primary key for Chicago will be its ability to deliver a hardnosed, take-no-prisons tactic at both ends of the floor.

For the Bulls to put points on the board, they must play unselfishly, freely sharing the ball, skipping it from player-to-player and from side-to-side while also search for opportunities to get into the paint and attack the basket. All five players must stay involved in what's going on in front of them. Chicago can't allow its offense to slow down, with the ball ending up in just one player's hands while the rest stand around and watch.

Defensively, Chicago must come out of the gates being physical, producing a bruising effort in defending the 3-point arc as well as down low under the basket. As a collective unit, the Bulls must go after every rebound and loose ball and set a sturdy tone by outhustling the Nets in every way.

To accomplish such goals Chicago must focus and communicate effectively on defense, with everyone recognizing the right time to jump passing lanes and double-team the ball. On the season, the Bulls have done a terrific job of forcing turnovers, leading the league at 18.0 per game, and scoring off those miscues at 21.1 per game. They'll need to tap into that component again this evening, as they'll need solid contributions from up-and-down their bench.

Once again the Bulls will be missing several key players due to injuries, and thus tonight is another opportunity for someone off the pine to play a significant role.