Keys to the Game: Bulls at Raptors (11.07.17)

The Bulls and the Raptors meet inside Toronto’s Air Canada Centre for the second time this season. Toronto ran away with the first game on Opening Night, 117-100. Jonas Valanciunas posted 23 points and snared 15 rebounds, while summer free agent signee CJ Miles shot a blistering 6-of-9 from long distance in notching 22 points in his Raptors debut. Robin Lopez led the Bulls with 18 points and eight rebounds, while rookie Lauri Markkanen added 17 points and also grabbed eight boards in his first NBA game.

For the fifth straight year All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan head up Toronto’s starting backcourt. Coming into this season the duo had formed one of the most prolific pairings in the game, as combined they typically posted between 45-50 points a night. However, Lowry, a blue-collar, hard-charging, highly-talented player, for some reason or another has started slowly, shooting an uncharacteristic 37.6% overall from the field while attempting the second-most shots on the team (11.2 per game) each night.

DeRozan, on the other hand, is enjoying another strong season, leading the Raptors in scoring at 23.9 points per game. The three-time All-Star who stands 6’7”and is now in his 9th season has often proven lethal inside the arc, knocking down mid-range jumpers or making his way to the charity stripe. The savvy veteran enters tonight averaging a league-leading 9.4 trips to the free throw line and connects on 82.4% of his attempts.

In order to frustrate Toronto’s firepower, Chicago’s team defense needs to put forth a united front. Collectively the Bulls have to fight and scrap for every rebound and loose ball. They also have keep their poise whenever the Raptors, and in particular Lowry and DeRozan, look to turn up the pressure.

Although the Bulls have lost two of their last three games, they have been able to hold each opponent to under 100 points by employing a great deal of heart, hustle and muscle. Chicago comes into tonight the NBA’s top rebounding team, pulling down 49.4 boards a night. They also rank 5th in opponent field goal percentage (43.1%) and 4th in points allowed (98.4). Where the Bulls have struggled is offensively, as they are putting just 91.9 points on the board (30th) by connecting on a league worst 39.4% of their shots from the field.

However, with all that being said, the team has shown flashes offensively when they persistently push the ball up the floor and keep it jumping from player-to-player and from side-to-side. For the offense to click, the ball has to hop freely and not get stuck onto anyone’s hands for too long. Every player on the floor has to be active and fully engaged with what’s going on.

Tonight the Bulls need to space the floor while constantly eying opportunities to attack the rim in the hopes of forcing Toronto’s defense into scrambling and breaking down. Chicago’s point guards, in particular Jerian Grant and Kris Dunn, must look to drive the ball deep into the paint and either finish at the rim or find open shooters stationed around the arc in order to create chaos.

In short, Chicago’s key task every game is to come out of the gates fast and play strong at both ends of the floor throughout the night. At no time can they afford to relax or slow things down. From the opening tip to the final buzzer, the Bulls need to possess a hardnosed attitude, especially when it comes to rebounding and patrolling the paint. Offensively Chicago must look to establish a fast pace, getting out into transition early and often in an effort to deny opponents opportunities to set up defensively. Ideally the Bulls would like to launch 30 or more 3s every game, however they can’t simply live outside. As a team they need to go on the attack in order to force opponents onto their heels and expend extra energy.