Keys to the Game: Bulls at Pacers (12.06.17)

Tonight the Chicago Bulls visit the capital of the Hoosier State to meet the Indiana Pacers in the second of four get-togethers. In the first meeting a little less than a month ago the Pacers ran away with a 105-87 victory at the United Center. That night Indy knocked down a total of 12 three-pointers and outscored Chicago 20-6 in transition. Victor Oladipo led the way with 25 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists while veteran Bojan Bogdanovic added 22 points, shooting 6-of-9 from downtown. The Bulls, on the other hand, struggled from the field, hitting only 39.8% of their shots overall, 25.9% from distance and 66.7% from the stripe. Bobby Portis and Kris Dunn came off the bench to lead Chicago’s effort with 20 and 16 points, respectively.

Much like the Bulls the Pacers are also in rebuild-mode, as only five of the 14 players that make up their active roster are back from last season. With that kind of turnover you’d think Indiana would have trouble coming together, but the Pacers hit the home hardwood this evening with a winning record (13-11) and rank 7th in the NBA in scoring (108.9 points), 4th in shooting (48.1 FG%), 5th in assists (23.4) and are tied with the Bulls for 8th in least amount of turnovers (14.4) per game.

Former Indiana University All-American Victor Oladipo is enjoying a breakout season as he leads the Pacers in scoring (23.1) while shooting personal-bests from the field (48.3%) and from distance (44.0%). Most likely Dunn, the Bulls’ best backcourt defender, will draw the assignment of shadowing Oladipo all over the court.

In total, the Pacers boast six players averaging double-digit scoring. Thus Chicago can’t afford to solely focus its energy on slowing Oladipo and fail to pay attention to the rest, especially Myles Turner (14.0 points and 7.4 rebounds), Thaddeus Young (13.4 and 6.0 rebounds), and the aforementioned Bogdanovic (15.0 ppg, 50.8 FG%, 44.5 3FG%), as well as primary playmaker Darren Collison (12.2 points and 6.6 assists).

Defensively, Chicago will need to stay tied together and do an excellent job of communicating to force Indiana to work to score. The Bulls guards will likely need to pressure the ball up and down the floor while everyone else sticks close to their assigned man to make it tough for Indy to find a comfort zone.

A primary key for Chicago each night is to take control of the boards at both ends of the court. As a team the Bulls have had trouble putting points on the board, as they come into tonight’s contest ranked 30th in both shooting (41.3%) and scoring (95.6). In order to give themselves a chance of coming out on top the Bulls have to dominate the glass, especially at the defensive end, as doing so leads to a number of fastbreaks and easy scoring opportunities.

As a rule of thumb, Chicago would like to attempt between 85 to 90 shots a game, with 30 or more coming from beyond the 3-point arc. In order to achieve those goals the Bulls have to establish and stick to playing at a fast pace. They have to quickly drive the ball up the court and share it with one another, making it hop from player-to-player and from one side of the floor to the other. To generate open looks at the basket they have to force Indiana’s defense to continuously shift and expend energy. They also have to draw the Pacers away from the basket in order to free up driving lanes through the paint. Freely sharing the ball also gets everyone involved in the action. The Golden State Warriors are the best in the league at sharing, averaging 31.1 assists a night. Thus it’s no wonder the ‘Dubs also sport an impressive 19-6 record and lead the NBA in scoring (118.5), field goal percentage (51.4%) and 3-point shooting (40.3%).

In short, Chicago’s chief task is to hit the floor running from the opening tip and never slow down. To create open looks at the basket the ball has to jump from player-to-player with everyone being involved. The Bulls must also come to work with a hardnosed mindset, and commit to outhustle the Pacers in every way. Expending effort isn’t a byproduct of talent, but rather it’s the foundation of having a blue collar work ethic and a desire to lay everything on the line in order to come away with a victory.