The Chicago Bulls (12-42) make their final visit to Coney Island this evening to take on the Brooklyn Nets (29-27) at the Barclays Center. The teams have met three times already this year, twice on Chicago's West Side, with Brooklyn winning all three get-togethers, the last of which occurred just 10 days ago (January 29th) here at Barclays. That night Nets All-Star playmaker D'Angelo Russell led the charge with a game-high 30 points (24 after halftime), with veteran Shabazz Napier contributing 24 off the bench to capture a 122-117 victory — Brooklyn's sixth straight over Chicago.
For the Bulls, Zach LaVine steered Chicago's attack with a team-high 26 points, and second-year forward Lauri Markkanen chipped in 18 and a career-best 19 rebounds.
After many years of being a league bottom dweller Brooklyn has really turned the tables this season primarily due to fifth-year point guard D'Angelo Russell. The former Ohio State All-American enters tonight's contest averaging a career-best 19.8 points. He's also tied for 7th in the league in made 3-pointers (151) and 12th in assists (6.5).
Second-year, 20-year old starting center, Jarrett Allen, has also been an impact player for Brooklyn this season. The 22nd overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Allen ranks 10th in the league in shooting (57.9%) and 12th in blocks (1.54). He's also notched a team-high 16 double-doubles, which is second-most in the league for a player 20-and-under.
Overall Allen has contributed a solid 11.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in almost 27 minutes per night.
As a team Brooklyn's bench has also stepped up its game, outscoring opponents an NBA-leading 48 times, averaging 47.8 points a game.
Tonight also marks the return of a key player for the Nets, as guard Caris LeVert is back in action after being out for nearly three months with a serious foot injury. LeVert was leading the Nets in scoring (18.4) when he dislocated his right foot while attempting to defend a layup in early November. In his absence Brooklyn has gone 23-19, but immediately after LeVert went down, the Nets lost 10 of 12. However after upsetting Toronto on December 7, they've gone 21-9 in their last 30 games.
As for the Bulls, they come in having lost two-in-a-row and six of their last eight games. Chicago also takes the floor with a slightly altered roster from their last visit to town with the additions of forwards Otto Porter Jr. and Timothè Luwawu-Cabarrot.
Porter Jr. was acquired Wednesday in a trade with the Washington Wizards. The 5th year forward out of Georgetown is averaging 12.6 points and 5.6 rebounds in 41 games this season. The hope is Porter Jr. and the aforementioned Lauri Markkanen will quickly form a formidable frontline for the Bulls. Markkanen, who is in his second season, is averaging an impressive 17.9 points and 8.1 rebounds, and most recently recorded back-to-back 30-point games.
In order to give themselves a good chance of coming out on top this evening the Bulls need to establish command of the boards at both ends of the floor and execute their attack in a smart and savvy fashion.
Offensively Chicago must keep the ball on the move and get everyone involved and invested in the action. To that end they have hit the floor with an aggressive mindset, and look to attack the rim at every opportunity. Effective communication along with the desire to hustle in every way will go a long way to achieving success.
The Bulls have scored 100+ points in 16 straight games, which is the franchise's second-longest streak since the 1990-91 season. As a team, it's essential they consistently get out on the break and run in order to deny the Nets a chance to set up on defense.
Speaking of defense, another important factor for Chicago will be limiting Brooklyn's opportunities at the 3-point arc. The Nets rank 6th in the league in 3-point attempts (34.6), and 5th in makes (12.3). Generally the first option they like to employ is to fire away from downtown. The Bulls simply cannot allow open and uncontested looks from the arc. If they are slow to react and defend the 3-point line, the game can get away from them in a hurry.