Keys to the Game: Bulls at Rockets (03.27.18)
The Chicago Bulls tip-off a three game road trip with a quick stop in Houston to take on the high-octane Rockets — the NBA's sole 60-win (so far) team. Houston (60-14) hits the hardwood eyeing an opportunity to extend a nine-game winning streak to double-digits. If the Rockets end up on top tonight, it'll mark the third time this season they have put together 10-game winning streaks.
Long considered one of the game's most innovative coaches, Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun offense has taken root deep in the heart of Texas. Now in his second season at the helm, D'Antoni's charges have gone 115-41 (.737) since his arrival. If that isn't impressive enough, Houston, coming into tonight, has scored 100+ points in 71 of 74 games played this season, and is 33-3 over their last 36.
The Rockets currently rank 2nd in the league in scoring (113.5), 1st in made 3-pointers (1,145 / 227 more than 2nd place Brooklyn), and 1st in 3-pointers attempted (3,131) and 13th in overall shooting (46.2%).
It doesn't take a rocket scientist (pardon the pun) to see that most of their offense comes from behind the 3-point arc. On the year, they're averaging a league-leading 42.3 attempts and 15.5 makes.
Tonight is the second (and final) time this season the Bulls and Rockets meet this year. Houston won the first get-together, 116-107, as they launched a ridiculous 54 shots from deep, connecting on 20 (37.0%), while Chicago went 12-of-28 (42.9%) from distance. Obviously, if the Bulls are going to give themselves any chance of winning this evening they're going to need to do a much better job of paying attention to the 3-point arc and do whatever is legally allowable under the law to make life difficult for Houston at the bend.
Chicago's offense is designed to get everyone involved in the action. Thus for it to click the ball has to freely be shared and skip from one side of the court to the other to force the defense to scramble. It's also important the Bulls not rush or launch quick, contested shots. For the offense to be effective the players must keep their poised and establish a free-flowing rhythm.
Thus whenever the Bulls take possession of the ball look for them to quickly push it down the court and place shooters equally apart all along the arc to draw Houston's defense out to the perimeter and away from the basket. Chicago's chief ballhandlers, in particular Cameron Payne, Jerian Grant, David Nwaba and Denzel Valentine (if he's able to play) need to aggressively drive the ball deep into the paint to cause chaos. If Houston's defense slides down towards the basket and/or looks to trap or double-team, Chicago's attackers have to adjust and locate an open teammate on the perimeter for an uncontested shot.
In short, the Bulls task is to be aggressive in every phase of the game and never back down. In order to create open looks at the rim, they have to unselfishly share the ball, passing it from side-to-side and from player-to-player. As collective unit, they have to sport a hardnosed mindset, and commit to outworking Houston in every way. Hustle isn't necessarily an offshoot of great talent, but rather it is the foundation of having a blue collar work ethic and a willingness to lay everything on the line in order to come away with a victory. The Bulls are going to need to have that approach if they're going to be the last team standing tonight.