Keys to the Game: Bulls at Pelicans (01.22.18)
Tonight the Chicago Bulls visit the Big Easy to take on Windy City favorite son Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans in the second of two scheduled get-togethers.
In the first contest played at the United Center on November 4th, both teams saw their first overtime action of the year, with the Pels ultimately prevailing, 96-90. New Orleans' dynamic All-Star duo of Davis (27 points, 16 rebounds) and DeMarcus Cousins (25 points, 11 rebounds) directed the charge for the visitors while the Bulls were led by Justin Holiday's 18 points.
New Orleans' veteran laden team is headed by the aforementioned 6'10 Davis and the 6'11 Cousins. Davis enters 4th in the league in scoring with a mark of 26.5 points a game, while Cousins sits 7th at 25.2. Both big men are major players on the glass as well, with Cousins clocking in as the NBA's 3rd best window-cleaner at 12.6 rebounds a game while Davis is 8th with a mark of 10.6 per night.
Overall, the Pels' squad has a very distinctive Chicago feel as not only does Davis hail from the city, but so do reserve guards Tony Allen and DeAndre Liggins. Starters E'Twaun Moore (2014-16) and veteran floor general Rajon Rondo (2016-17) also played for the Bulls at one time or another, as did backup center Omer Asik (2010-12). Lastly, New Orleans' starting shooting guard, Jrue Holiday, is the younger brother of Chicago's Justin Holiday.
The Pelicans hit the hardwood having won five of their last seven games, including a 111-104 bayou drubbing of Memphis, Saturday night. The Bulls are also playing well, winning four of their last five, including a 113-97 road trouncing of Atlanta, also on Saturday. Overall, Chicago shot 40-of-80 (50.0%) from the field against the Hawks. It was the ninth time this season the Bulls have connected on at least half of their field goal attempts. In fact Chicago also hit 14 3s against Atlanta to extend its streak of making 10-or-more 3s to 10-straight games. The Bulls have now hit 10-or-more from beyond the arc in 32-of-46 games played this year.
As for the keys to coming out on top this evening, per usual, Chicago has to get a hardscrabble effort from its entire roster. As mentioned above, the Pels have been on a roll, thus the Bulls best bet is to come out of the gates fast and attempt to take charge right away by establishing an aggressive pace from the opening tip. Collectively, they need to surpass New Orleans' energy and effort by going all-out after every loose ball and rebound and constantly look to run out in transition in hopes of posting easy scores, early and often.
Offensively the Bulls have been at their best when they consistently push the ball up the floor, and keep it moving from player-to-player and from side-to-side. The ball has to jump freely and find its way into everyone's hands in search of an open shot.
Overall, Chicago will need to spread the floor while at the same time eyeball opportunities to take the action to the rim to force New Orleans' defense to scramble and break down. Both Davis and Cousins are intimidating rim-protectors, but that can't stop the Bulls from being in attack-mode. Chicago has to seize upon every opportunity to drive the ball deep into the paint to create confusion while everyone continuously moves about by darting in-and-out of the paint and all around the 3-point arc.
In short, the Bulls have to be aggressive at both ends of the floor. At no time can they afford to slow things down. They have to freely share the ball, while at the same time limit turnovers. Sloppy passes and undisciplined play is a recipe for disaster.
It's going to be tough to keep both Davis and Cousins under wraps. However, one way to slow each of them down is to keep the pace of the game fast and free-flowing. Big men generally don't enjoy insistently running up and down the court. Thus if the Bulls can quickly establish and stick to playing at a fast pace, the Pels' goliaths might be forced to take a seat to catch their breath a little more often than usual.