Keys to the Game: Bulls at Pelicans (03.03.21)

The Bulls close out the first half of the 2020-21 season with a quick visit to the Big Easy to take on the New Orleans Pelicans for the second and final time this year.

In the series opener at the United Center last month, it was the Zach and Coby Show, as Chicago's dynamic backcourt led the Bulls to a 129-116 victory. Along the way the duo established an NBA record by being the first teammates to knock down eight or more triples in the same game. LaVine posted a season-high 46 points, hitting nine of Chicago's franchise-record 25 3-pointers, while White made eight 3s in scoring 30 points.

Denzel Valentine came off the pine, and got in on the fun, adding four 3-pointers in putting up 16 points. Chicago shot a blistering 25 of 47 (53.2%) from beyond the arc and hit 59.3% (48 of 81) from the floor overall.

Zion Williamson had 29 points to lead New Orleans, while Brandon Ingram finished with 21 points on 6 of 19 shooting. Lonzo Ball scored 19 of his 21 points in the first half.

New Orleans led 74-66 at the break despite Chicago setting a franchise record with 14 treys in the opening half, but the Bulls stampeded right past the Pelicans with a 40-14 third quarter to put the game away.

Fans can catch tonight's action on TV and radio (NBC Sports Chicago / WSCR-AM 670) at 7:00 PM.

The Bulls come into tonight's contest sporting a 15-18 record after dropping their last two. The losses came against a pair of strong opponents in the Phoenix Suns and the Denver Nuggets.

Chicago didn't start the Denver game well, conceding a 15-point lead in the first half. But All-Star Zach LaVine (23 points, nine rebounds) and Coby White (20 points, 10 rebounds) took charge late in the game, pushing the Bulls to a 95-89 lead with nine minutes left on the clock. However, Nikola Jokić switched to MVP mode to overwhelm Chicago, posting a game-best 39 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists to lead the Nuggets to a 118-112 victory.

As great as LaVine has been this season, if Chicago is going to succeed in both the short and long run, others must step up with some consistency.

Defensive pressure is going to play a vital role in determining tonight's game. Chicago will need to play with poise, and stay focused and alert, calling out and quickly rotating defensively, especially under the basket when dealing with a powerful force like the Pels second-year sensation, Zion Williamson. The Bulls must also pay close attention to the arc, and aggressively look to run off dead-eye snipers such as Ingram and veteran JJ Redick, who cash their checks most nights from long distance.

Offensively, the Bulls need to continue to freely skip the ball, passing it from player-to-player and from side-to-side, forcing the Pelicans to burn energy on defense. The ball cannot end up stuck in LaVine's hands while everyone else watches. Others must contribute to lessen the pressure on LaVine to score most of the Bulls' points.

A key tenet for the Bulls every game is to play fast, but at the same time they must take good care of the ball and not commit silly turnovers. Continual player and ball movement, in and out of the paint, and all around the arc, will create a free-flowing rhythm and force New Orleans' defense to scramble and breakdown.

Another important facet of the game the Bulls must continue to perfect is its ability to communicate and work together on both ends of the floor. With each outing the Bulls have gotten better in these areas, but there is always more work to do.

To that end, Chicago must continue to hustle in every way, and never back off from a challenge. They must keep the pressure on each night and refuse to allow an opponent to dictate the pace of the game or establish a comfort zone.

If the Bulls show up and play with a feisty attitude, aggressively charge out of the chute from the jump, and maintain that intensity all through the night, they'll give themselves a good shot of ending the first half of the season with a nice road win over one of the NBA's up and coming young teams.