Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Cavaliers (01.27.19)

In a Sunday afternoon matinee at the United Center, the Bulls host the Cleveland Cavaliers looking to sweep the season series, 4-0. The two last met each other in Cleveland this past Monday with Chicago posting a 104-88 runaway victory. Defensively the Bulls pressured the Cavs into turning the ball over 14 times and held them to just 35.6% shooting from the field. Chicago also controlled the boards, outrebounding Cleveland 50-38. Zach LaVine led all scorers with 25 points, while fellow starters Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen chipped in 13 points apiece. Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker also posted solid stats off the Bulls’ bench, with Portis contributing 15 points and six rebounds in 19 minutes while Parker added 10 points, going 2-of-3 from behind the 3-point arc. Rookie point guard Collin Sexton led Cleveland’s offense with an 18-point game, but failed to record a single assist.

Much like the Bulls these days, Cleveland is also in the early stages of a team rebuild. Prior to their game Friday at home against Miami they had yet to reach 10 wins on the season. A lot of their frustrations can be pinned on bad luck and poor health. As of this writing the Cavs will step on the hardwood today without the help of veterans Tristan Thompson (left foot soreness), Kevin Love (left foot surgery), ex-Bulls swingman David Nwaba (left ankle sprain) and forward/center John Henson (left wrist surgery). Forward Larry Nance Jr. (right knee sprain) is also ailing but might play, nonetheless.

Coming into the weekend (not including Friday), the Cavs had lost five straight and 17 of their last 18 games. They’re 28th in the league in scoring at 102.5 per game, 26th in rebounding (41.9) and 29th in assists (20.0). Defensively opponents have shot an NBA-best 49.4% from the field and are averaging 113.9 points this season. However, one player that seems to be developing nicely for the Cavs is Cedi Osman, a 6’8”, 215-pound, second-year swingman from Macedonia. Last week against Boston he shot 8-of-11 from the floor, including 6-of-7 from behind the arc in posting a career-high 25 points, along with eight rebounds and two assists. In total, Osman has reached double-figures in scoring 30 times this season, with seven 20+ point performances. He’s averaging 11.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 31.5 minutes a game.

Another Cav to keep an eye on this afternoon is the aforementioned Collin Sexton. The No. 8 overall pick out of Alabama in last June’s NBA Draft, Sexton is averaging 14.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists in almost 30 minutes. He’s the only Cavalier to appear in every game, and has scored double-digits in 42 of 49 games played.

In order to pull off a series sweep this afternoon the Bulls are going to need to overpower and out-execute Cleveland at both ends of the floor. Offensively they must keep the ball on the move, getting everyone involved and invested in the action. The Bulls need to make the ball skip from one side of the court to the other, and from player to player to force the Cavs to burn energy in scrambling to defend both the perimeter and the paint. To that end Chicago’s starting guards, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, as well as small forward Chandler Hutchison, and power forwards Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis, must show up sporting an aggressive mindset, and relentlessly attack the rim at every opportunity.

As a team, the Bulls also need to take command of the boards at both ends. From the opening tip until the final buzzer, they have to commit to outworking and outhustling the Cavs in every way imaginable.