The Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers come together at the United Center to close their four-game season series, with Chicago currently up 2-1.
The Cavs won the opener at home, 117-111, way back on October 30th, however Chicago bagged the next two played within a week of each other in mid-January, once at the United Center (118-116) and the last on the road (118-106), to seize the series lead.
At the third meeting in Cleveland, Bulls guard Zach LaVine shot 16 of 30 (.533) from the field, including 5 of 12 (.417) from behind the arc to post a game-high 44 points, to go along with a game-high 10 rebounds, while Cleveland's Kevin Love (20 points/11 rebounds) had a double-double of his own.
The turning point in the contest occurred with 7:38 left in the third quarter with the score knotted at 67. Behind LaVine's brilliance, Chicago closed the stanza on an amazing 32-9 run to go up 23 (99-76) entering the fourth quarter. The Bulls continued to play well down the stretch, ending up with a 118-106 victory.
For Chicago to secure the season series tonight against their longtime Central Division rival, they'll need to come up with another dogged effort at both ends of the court.
Each time the Bulls take the hardwood it's essential they sport an unselfish mindset, generously sharing the ball with one another, constantly skipping it from player-to-player and quickly from one side of the floor to the other, in search of open (outside) looks at the rim, as well as clear driving lanes to the hoop.
It's also imperative that all five Bulls get involved in the action for the offense to truly click. Everyone must play an important, active role in the attack.
Each of Chicago's last three games ended up being tight, frustrating losses at the end, as they fell on the road in Minnesota by seven points, at home against the playoff bound Indiana Pacers by six, and then the other day at Brooklyn by three. The absence of the team's leading scorer, Zach LaVine (strained quad), has clearly played a major part in these events, and once again he's declared out of action tonight against Cleveland.
In 60 games, LaVine is averaging a team-best 25.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists, and he's already has set the franchise single-season record for most made 3-pointers at 184. It's hoped he'll be healthy enough to return soon, unfortunately it won't be tonight.
As for Cleveland, they've won six of their last 11 and are coming off back-to-back weekend victories over Denver (104-102 on Friday) and San Antonio (132-129 OT on Sunday).
Against the Spurs, the Cavs had a season-high four players record double-doubles, led by big men Andre Drummond (28 points/17 rebounds), Kevin Love (14 points/18 rebounds) and Larry Nance Jr. (19 points/10 rebounds), while guard Matthew Dellavedova (14 points/11 assists) also notched a double-double.
As a team, Cleveland dished 26 assists against San Antonio, their ninth straight game of 24 + dimes. Second-year guard Collin Sexton also delivered offensively, scoring 26 points. In his last seven contests, Sexton is averaging 28.4 points while shooting a twine torching .540% from the field, including .450% from long distance.
Defensively this evening, Chicago must trust one another and do a great job of communicating in protecting the paint against Drummond and Love as well as keeping close tabs on outside snipers hovering around the 3-point arc.
The Bulls are at their best when they pressure the ball up and down the floor while also quickly identifying opportunities to jump passing lanes and double-team along the 3-point arc, in the corners and under the basket.
Collectively, Chicago must commit to going all out after every loose ball and fight for control of the paint and the boards from the moment the game tips off until the final horn to give themselves the best chance of coming out on top.