Keys To The Game: Bulls vs. Cavaliers (1.19.22)

Remind Me Later

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The Bulls enter Wednesday night on a four-game losing streak, in big need of a win to get back on track as they look to hold on to first place in a loaded Eastern Conference.

Chicago will take on a Cleveland Cavaliers team that has, along with the Bulls, been one of the better stories in the NBA this season.

The Cavaliers, who finished last season 22-50, enter Wednesday sitting at 27-18 and a mere 0.5 games back of Chicago for first place in the East. The Cavs are powered by talented point guard Darius Garland and their oversized frontcourt featuring Jarrett Allen, Rookie of the Year candidate Evan Mobley and a familiar face in Lauri Markkanen.

Cleveland's defense has managed to form one of the best units in the league.

Their long-limbed frontcourt will provide plenty of challenges for the short-handed Bulls, but with some patience and teamwork, there will be clear-cut avenues for the Chicago to take advantage of the Cavs on Wednesday night.

Corral Darius Garland in the pick-and-roll

The aforementioned Darius Garland is the key to stopping the Cleveland Cavaliers. Because it is unconventional, their big frontcourt gets most of the headlines. But Garland's ascension into one of the clear-cut, best playmakers in the noteworthy.

At just 21 years old, Garland is averaging 19 points and 7 assists per game while shooting an accurate 37% from the 3-point line on a high volume of attempts.

If Chicago wants to take down Cleveland on Wednesday, then they will need to corral Garland when he is navigating screens, making sure he doesn't gain enough space to create for himself or others.

Look for Ayo Dosunmu and the potentially returning Alex Caruso to play a large role in slowing down Garland and taking the ball out of his hands.

Darius Garland being guarded by Davion Mitchell

Hunt for mismatches on the perimeter

We mentioned earlier in this post how Cleveland thrives with their very, very big frontcourt. But this same strength doubles as a weakness of sorts.

Chicago, even when not at full-strength, has impressive perimeter scoring talent in DeMar DeRozan, Coby White and even rookie Ayo Dosunmu. All three guards are capable of going on big-time scoring outbursts.

When the Bulls inevitably attack the Cavaliers in the pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop, it would greatly benefit Chicago's offense if the smalls (i.e. guards, smaller wings) tried to attack the Cleveland bigs off the dribble.

The Bulls have struggled mightily as of late when it comes to generating free throw attempts. Attacking the Cleveland big men in space might not always result in scores but it definitely is the easiest route to getting quick trips to the charity stripe.

Nikola Vucevic hookshot on Lauri Markkanen

Close out hard on Lauri Markkanen

Almost every NBA team has a designated shooter/3-point specialist on their roster. But despite this player often being easy to identify, opposing defenses often lose track of that player specifically.

This happened a few times for the Bulls in losses to the Celtics and Grizzlies and is something they will need to avoid if they don't want to suffer a fifth straight loss.

Lauri Markkanen is Cleveland's primary shooter stationed around Cleveland's Garland-Allen or Garland-Mobley pick-and-rolls.

Markkanen is shooting a career-worst 32% from 3-point range, but that figure is at a respectable 37% over the last 10 games.

This shows just how valuable Markkanen is to Cleveland's winning ways, as the team still won games despite Lauri not shooting lights out from 3-point range overall on the season. Chicago will need to focus their primary defensive attention on Garland and the Cavs bigs around the basket, but they cannot be scared to run the perimeter-oriented Markkanen off the 3-point line.

Lauri Markkanen taking a jump shot over Kyrie Irving
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