Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Cavaliers (12.04.17)
Tonight the Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers meet for the second of four times this season. The two got together back on October 24th in Cleveland, where the Cavs pulled away late to post a 119-112 victory. Six Cavaliers scored in double-digits led by LeBron James' game-high 34 points, Kevin Love's 20, Jeff Green's 16 with Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade and Kyle Korver notching 11 points apiece. Cleveland shot 43-of-83 (51.8%) from the field, assisting on 28-of-43 made shots, and went 16-of-38 (42.1%) from 3-point range.
Swingman Justin Holiday led Chicago's attack with 25 points followed by rookie Lauri Markkanen's 19 points and 8 rebounds.
The Cavs come to town red hot, having won 11 straight - the longest active win streak in the NBA - and currently boast a 16-7 record on the year. Offensively the Wine & Gold are averaging 112.8 points during this stretch, outscoring opponents by an average of 9.7 points. They are also averaging 23.8 assists, while shooting 38.4% from deep and 80.0% from the charity stripe.
Defensively, Chicago has to do a tremendous job of communicating and play together. Cleveland is loaded with a number of explosive players, all of whom are capable to taking over a game at a moment's notice. As a team, the Bulls must pay close attention to the 3-point arc and run shooters off the bend. Chicago also must crash the boards hard at both ends of the floor, and if they fail to come up with a missed shot or loose ball, it is vital they hustle back defensively in order and deny Cleveland chances to load up on easy baskets in transition. Chicago has to commit to playing a physical game and outhustle the Cavs in every way.The Bulls' offensive system is designed to get all five players involved in the action, and thus in order for it to click the ball has to freely be shared. It must swing from side-to-side and player-to-player in order to force the opponent's defense to expend energy. Also, it's important that Chicago not rush or launch quick shots, but rather slip into an easy, free-flowing rhythm which in turn will help them discover open shots from any number of places on the floor.
Therefore tonight when the Bulls have the ball look for them to spread the court, stationing shooters evenly along the arc in order to force Cleveland's defense to extend away from the rim, and in turn expose driving lanes to the basket. Chicago's guards, particularly Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant, need to then be willing to aggressively take the ball deep into the paint to create chaos. If the defense slides down towards the basket to double Dunn or Grant before they get to the cup, those two need to locate an open teammate out on the perimeter and get him the ball. Overall, Dunn and Grant have done a solid job this season of regularly driving the ball into the paint and finding open teammates on the wing for good looks at the basket. The problem Chicago has run into more often than not is those teammates simply haven't made their shots. This evening should offer a terrific opportunity to turn that issue around.
In short, if the Bulls can come out of the gates quickly and establish and stick to playing a fast and aggressive pace, keeping everyone mentally and physically engaged at both ends of the floor, they'll give themselves a legitimate shot of pulling off an upset.