Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Grizzlies (10.25.19)

Tonight, the Chicago Bulls make their only trip to Memphis, Tennessee, to take on the Grizzlies, closing out a quick two-game road trip. Both the Bulls and Grizzlies tipped off the 2019-20 season Wednesday on losing notes, with Chicago falling 126-125 to the Charlotte Hornets, while Memphis got blitzed in South Florida, 120-101, by the Miami Heat. For Chicago, tonight's contest will be the first of a back-to-back set, as tomorrow the Bulls battle the defending NBA Champion Toronto Raptors at the United Center in their home opener.

Against Charlotte the other night Chicago started slow, falling behind at one point by 16 points late in the opening half, but the Bulls rallied late to take a 10-point lead with a little more than six minutes left to play in the game. Unfortunately, Charlotte's sizzling shooting from behind the arc (23-of-44, 52.3%, compared to Chicago going 9-of-30, 30%) proved lethal as the Hornets closed hard and fast to escape with an exciting one-point victory in front of their home fans.

Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen led all scorers with 35 points. The third-year Finn also grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds. Rookie Coby White and veteran Thad Young each came off the bench and posted 17 points. White also dished seven assists in his NBA debut, while Zach LaVine put up 16 points, seven assists and six rebounds.

Hornets rookie PJ Washington exploded for 27 points to lead the Buzz. The 12th overall pick in last June's NBA Draft connected on 7-of-11 from downtown, while second-year guard Devonte Graham was equally blistering from the arc, knocking down 6-of-7 on his way to a career-high 23 points.

Once again Bulls Head Coach Jim Boylen will send out a starting five of Tomas Satoransky and LaVine in the backcourt, Otto Porter Jr. and Markkanen in the frontcourt with Wendell Carter Jr. manning the middle. Chicago's depth should give Boylen the confidence to call upon as many as 10 players (depending on matchups) this evening.

Look for the Bulls to play fast and crash the boards hard at both ends of the floor. A focused rebounding effort— especially at the defensive end — will help ignite Chicago's running game. As they demonstrated often during the preseason, Chicago must play unselfishly with the ball, constantly skipping it from player-to-player and from side-to-side in order to find open looks at the hoop. All five players also need to show a readiness to attack the rim whenever a path opens in the paint.

Defensively, the Bulls must do a better job at finding their man streaking down the court and not give up so many easy scores on the break. Besides allowing Charlotte to hit way too many open 3s, the Bulls also allowed the Hornets to outscore them 16-6 on fast breaks in the opening half. Although Chicago eventually became a bit more serious in tightening that area up in the second half, the Hornets still ended up on top 25-21 by the end of the night. The Grizzlies offense will be directed by No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant, who Wednesday totaled 14 points, four rebounds and four assists against Miami. Morant's game is fueled by his lightning speed and an eagerness to attack the rim. Collectively the Bulls need to keep Morant in front of them while also keeping the lines of communication open. They must shut down the paint and force the Grizzlies to live outside, far from the rim.

Chicago's multiple ballhandler offensive system should allow the Bulls to light up scoreboards all season long. Nevertheless, for them to achieve their goals they're going to have come into every game with a blue-collar attitude.