Keys to the Game: Bulls at Pelicans (11.07.18)
Tonight the Bulls find themselves down South in the Big Easy to take on the New Orleans Pelicans in the first of two contests booked between them this season. Tonight's game also closes a brief two-city road trip for Chicago, who got off on the right foot Monday in Gotham City with a 116-115 double overtime victory over the Knicks to snap a four game losing streak. Zach LaVine led the way, posting a career-best 41 points, including scoring all eight of Chicago's points in the second overtime. Antonio Blakeney also had an impressive night, chipping in 17 points off the bench, while Jabari Parker added 15 and rookie center Wendell Carter Jr. notched his third double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds.
As for the Pels, they began the year by winning their first four games, but ever since they have hit the skids, dropping six in a row. In their last effort New Orleans committed 21 turnovers in Oklahoma City, losing to the Thunder 122-116 Monday night. Sixth man Julius Randle led the Pels with 26 points and eight rebounds. The former Kentucky power forward connected on all 10 of his shots from the field, including two 3-pointers, as well as all four free throw attempts. All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday added 22 while First Team All-NBA superstar Anthony Davis posted 20. Former Bull Nikola Mirotic, who is enjoying a breakout season with New Orleans, also added 16 points and matched a career-high 16 rebounds. For the season Mirotic is shooting 50% from the field overall (35.3% - 3p %) and averaging 21.8 points and 11.4 rebounds in 32 minutes a game.
In order for the Bulls to post a second road win, they're going to need tighten up their play at both ends of the floor. Offensively they are at their best when they hit the floor running and establish a fast pace. It is also vital they initiate a presence on the glass at both ends of the floor, especially so on the defensive side where they can ignite the offense with an unending number of outlet passes to streaking teammates along who'll quickly push the ball up the floor in the hope of denying the defense opportunities to get settled and shut down driving lanes to the hoop.
In order to be successful, Chicago has to take advantage of its youth and athleticism by running the floor early and often. When a fastbreak opportunity isn't available the Bulls have to find a way to open up the middle of the floor and relentlessly attack the basket. The most effective way to accomplish this goal is to spread out all along the three-point arc in order to draw the defense's attention to the perimeter and away from the hoop. The ball must also be shared freely, keeping everyone involved. Crisp passing between all five Bulls players stationed in every corner of the floor stretches the defense and forces it to overreact and open up an endless supply of backdoor, baseline cuts. In order for the Bulls to light the scoreboard the ball needs to jump from player-to-player and from side-to-side with everyone playing an important role.
Defensively, Chicago must bring energy and sport a stubborn will, vowing that they will never allow New Orleans to outhustle them in any phase of the game. Every Bull that steps onto the hardwood is capable of staying focused and delivering energy and maximum effort. As banged up as they are without the help of starters Kris Dunn (left MCL sprain) and Lauri Markkanen (right elbow sprain), as well as key reserves Bobby Portis (right MCL sprain) and Denzel Valentine (left ankle sprain), Chicago still needs to play with an edge. They have to be willing to dive on the floor after every loose ball and look to pull down every rebound in order to give themselves a legitimate shot at winning.