The Bulls close out a four-game homestand this evening against the Los Angeles Clippers. Tonight's contest is second of a back-to-back set for both Chicago and LA.
The Bulls took on the Charlotte Hornets last night here at the United Center, while the Clippers met up with the Timberwolves in Minnesota. Prior to the Wolves game the Clippers had won 8 of their last 10 games, including three in a row.
For Chicago to come out on top this evening they're certainly going to need to deliver a blue-collar effort in every phase of the game.
Aside from having two of the NBA's best two-way players in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers have a wealth a quality depth up and down their roster. In fact they are the only team in the league with four players averaging at least 18.5 points per game, with Leonard putting up 24.9, George 23.2, followed by Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, each of whom come off the bench on a nightly basis, averaging 19.9 and 18.7 points, respectively.
As of this writing it hasn't been announced whether Leonard and/or George will be in the lineup as each players' court time has been closely monitored by LA's front office. Both All-Stars have had to overcome serious injuries the past couple of seasons, and thus management has attempted to the limit the wear and tear on their bodies as much as possible. Since the Clippers played last night, there's chance neither will take the floor today. However, heading into Friday, since George made his Clippers debut back on November 14th, the team has gone 12-3.
With regards to the Bulls, when they come out of the gates and establish a speedy pace right from the start, good things tend to happen. Over their first 26 games, the Bulls have outscored opponents 701-660 in the opening quarter. That +41-point differential is the fourth best in the Eastern Conference and seventh in the league.
However, as impressive as those fast starts have been a major problem for Chicago has been sustaining them over the course of the three remaining quarters. Not only will the Bulls need another explosive start this evening, they're going to need to keep that energy flowing the rest of the night.
Thus, it'll be essential they play unselfishly, freely sharing the ball with one another, skipping it from player-to-player and from side-to-side, while also taking advantage of every opportunity to take the action to the front of the rim. All five Chicago players on the court must stay involved in what's going on. The Bulls' offense can't afford to morph into a series of one-on-one battles.
Defensively the Bulls must create a rugged tone from the opening tip by outhustling and outexecuting LA, forcefully going hard after every rebound and loose ball. They also must keep their heads up and quickly recognize when to jump into passing lanes and double-team the ball, while also making sure every opposing shooter is not allowed to roam free along the 3-point arc.
Heading into the weekend, Chicago leads the NBA in forcing turnovers at 18.4 per game, and scoring (568 points) off those miscues. The Bulls have also held opponents to just 32.5% from 3-point range, the third lowest mark in the league.
To sum it all up, to defeat a top-shelf team like the Clippers the Bulls will have to produce an "A" game in every way.