Keys to the Game: Bulls at Spurs (12.15.18)

Tonight the Bulls visit the Alamo City to take on the San Antonio Spurs to close out the season series between the iconic franchises. In the first matchup the Spurs escaped Chicago with a hard-fought 108-107 victory at the United Center on November 26th.

San Antonio's bench came up big that night by outscoring Chicago's second unit 44-14 in a contest that also featured 15 lead changes and 13 ties. Patty Mills led the Spurs' reserves with 17 points off the bench, while fellow backup Jakob Poeltl enjoyed a perfect 5-for-5 shooting night in chipping in 10. DeMar DeRozen led the Spurs with 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists, while LaMarcus Aldridge contributed another 20 points and snagged eight rebounds as well. Zach LaVine led Chicago and all-scorers with 28 points while backcourt mate Ryan Arcidiacono recorded a career-high 22 points. San Antonio also held a significant edge down low, outscoring the Bulls 56-32 in the paint, while also capturing the boards, 46-43.

Chicago enters tonight's contest desperate for a win after falling 97-91 to the Orlando Magic Thursday in Mexico City. It was the Bulls' 10th loss in its last 11 games and has them stuck at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a record of 6-23. Once again LaVine led the way with 23 points, five assists and two steals. Veteran wing Justin Holiday also had a strong game for the Bulls, going 6-for-11 from the field overall, and 4-for-5 from behind the arc for 18 points, while Bobby Portis added 15 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes of action off the bench.

The Spurs also played Thursday, but unlike Chicago they posted a 125-87 drubbing of the LA Clippers. It was San Antonio's fourth straight win and the third time in a row they've held an opponent to under 100 points. And maybe most importantly, that 38-point blowout could prove to be the turning point of their season, as the victory finally pushed the Spurs over the .500 mark (15-14). Before this hot streak, San Antonio had dropped three of their previous five games by 39, 31 and 34 points. However since then they've limited foes to fewer than 30 points in 12 of the last 14 quarters they've played, highlighted by surrendering just 30 points in total during the second half to the Clippers the other night.

If the Bulls are to right the ship this evening they're going to have to come out of the gates gritty and aggressive in every way and maintain that attitude from tip-off to final buzzer. San Antonio's recipe for success over the years has been to employ hardnosed, lockdown defense that will spawn a relentless offensive attack. Under the direction of newly appointed Head Coach Jim Boylen who previously was a Spurs assistant under San Antonio's legendary bench boss, Gregg Popovich, Chicago hopes in time to master that exact same blueprint.

For this to work the Bulls need to get and keep all five players on the floor involved. They can't afford to let their attack become a series of ball-stopping, one-on-one matches. They have to keep the ball hopping from player-to-player and from side-to-side to force the defense to scramble and expend extra energy. The Bulls also have to be smart with the ball and avoid turnovers that will help ignite San Antonio's offense by allowing them to up the pace with endless fastbreaks.

Another important key will be limit the Spurs' scoring opportunities from the 3-point arc. The Silver and Black are currently shooting an impressive .391 from behind the arc, which ranks second in the league. They have three players shooting above 40 percent from distance in Rudy Gay (.484), Davis Bertans (.449) and Bryn Forbes (.434).