Keys to the Game: Bulls at Nets (10.31.16)

Tonight the Bulls (2-0) hit the road and meet up with the Brooklyn Nets (1-2) in the first of four regular season get-togethers. The Nets come into tonight looking to bounce back from Saturday’s heartbreaking, 110-108 buzzer-beating, tip-in loss at Milwaukee. Third-year, 6’8” swingman, Brian Bogdanovic, led Brooklyn’s attack with 26 points, eight rebounds and two assists. Veteran point guard Jeremy Lin, signed as a free agent over the summer, also posted a strong game with 12 points and 10 assists, as did veteran power forward, Trevor Booker, who swatted two shots and notched 14 points and snared 14 rebounds.

Although Brooklyn comes into tonight’s battle with a 1-2 mark on the season, they’ve proven to be a tough out — especially during crunch time — as they lead the NBA in 4th quarter scoring with an average of 34 points while surrendering only 23.3. Brooklyn has trailed by a significant margin heading into the final 12 minutes in each of their games, yet they have mounted furious rallies every time. So apparently when it comes to the 2016-17 Nets, Yogi Berra’s infamous quote of “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” rings true.

Under first year head coach Kenny Atkinson, the Nets have been more free-wheeling offensively than they have been in the recent past. This year’s bunch really likes shooting the long ball, as they’ve attempted at least 30 3-pointers in each of their games. Brooklyn’s bench is averaging 49 points scored, the second-most among all second units in the league. In fact, Brooklyn’s off-the-pine crew also digs shooting the long ball, as so far they’ve attempted (59) and made (23) the most in both categories in the league.

Not only are the Bulls going to have to pay close attention to the aforementioned Bogdanovic, Lin and Booker, they’re also going to need to keep an eye on super-sub, Sean Kilpatrick (3rd year, Cincinnati), who is averaging 15 points off Brooklyn’s bench. In 26 career games with the Nets, Kilpatrick has scored in double-figures 22 times, including 20 of his last 21 games. And although it’s a small sample size, in just nine career home games at Barclays Center, Kilpatrick has averaged 25.7 points while knocking down 20-of-40 from long distance.

On the year, the Nets are averaging 109.3 points scored (tied for 5th with Golden State) while giving up 108.7 (22nd).

Believe it or not, the new-look Bulls enter tonight leading the NBA in scoring to the tune of 111.5 points while surrendering 100 (11th). Two-time All-Star and most recent U.S. Olympic gold medalist, Jimmy Butler, comes into this evening averaging 20 points a game, while floor general, Rajon Rondo, doles out an average of 11 assists, and future Hall of Famer, Dwyane Wade, puts up 18 points a night.

The Bulls have really made their mark on the glass this season, holding an imposing 102-69 rebounding edge while also shooting an impressive 20-of-46 overall from beyond the arc (.435), good for 3rd in the league. For a team that many self-proclaimed experts said couldn’t hit the ocean even if they were passengers in a boat, that’s seems to be pretty fair marksmanship.

In the past, Chicago’s recipe for success involved imposing its will by out-hustling foes in every imaginable way. As mentioned above, the Bulls have really dominated the boards this season. If they are to come out on top again tonight, they will need to continue to do just that, as the Nets want to get out on the break as often as possible. If Chicago can once again take command the glass, it’ll be the Bulls who’ll do most of the stampeding down the floor with Brooklyn trailing behind.

Defensively, Chicago needs to stay aggressive and keep the lines of communication open and free-flowing. Simply put, they cannot allow any opponent easy scoring opportunities. Every shot and pass Brooklyn attempts must be challenged. The Bulls have to forcibly push the Nets away from their comfort zone, making them work hard for every point and rebound they get. One of the main keys to Chicago’s success has been the team’s scrappiness at both ends of the floor. To be effective, the Bulls attitude has to be unyielding, hardnosed and blue collar on a nightly basis.

Offensively, Chicago has done a terrific job of keeping the ball hopping from player-to-player, and from side-to-side. In just two games, they have recorded 59 assists on 81 made field goals — now that’s getting it done!

The Bulls have established a fun and exciting pace of play, swiftly running the ball up the floor, making quick decisions in half-court sets, and attacking the rim by cutting through the paint with purpose and also by looking to make the extra pass in order to find an open teammate with a great look at the hoop.

This evening’s game should be an entertaining and high-scoring contest between two hungry teams that really want to light up the scoreboard. If the Bulls stay focused and execute by continuing to out-hustle and outwork the opposition, Chicago should come away with another victory.

Another fun storyline to follow tonight will be the battle of the Lopez brothers — Brooklyn’s 7’0” starting center, Brook Lopez, and Chicago’s 7’0” starting pivot, Robin Lopez. Tonight marks the 14th NBA clash between the two, with Robin, who unabashedly proclaims himself to be more handsome twin, holding a 7-6 edge.