The Bulls and the Miami Heat get together for the first time at the United Center tonight. The two will tango on three more occasions later this season, twice in Miami and one more in Chicago in mid-March.
Chicago hits the floor this evening with an extra bounce in its step after blowing out Detroit on Wednesday, 109-89. The Bulls dominated the Pistons in just about all phases, including from behind the 3-point arc, going 14-for-27 (52%) for distance to Detroit's 8-for-33 (24%) effort. Chicago also owned the glass, outrebounding the Pistons 55-46, and outscored them in the paint, 48-36. Third-year forward Lauri Markkanen led the way with a 24-point night on 7-for-14 shooting, including 3-for-4 from downtown. Wendell Carter Jr. also produced an impressive showing in recording his ninth double-double of the season with 12 points and 15 rebounds. Tomas Satoransky and Shaquille Harrison also got in on the fun they chipped in 15 points apiece to help the Bulls snap a three-game losing streak.
Before Wednesday's tip Chicago announced small forward Otto Porter Jr. will continued to be sidelined for at least another couple of weeks due to a nagging left foot injury, and Chandler Hutchison, Porter's backup, would also sit due to shin splints. Shaquille Harrison proved more than capable of taking their place as he not only contributed 15 points, but also 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals in 26 minutes of work. Hutchison is out again this evening, so Harrison is set to start again.
The Miami Heat are off to their best start in six years, arriving in town at 10-3 on the season and riding the wave of a four-game winning streak after torching Cleveland Wednesday, 124-100. This evening's contest is the start of a back-to-back set on the road for Miami, as they visit Philadelphia tomorrow. Tonight, is also the start of a back-to-back for Chicago, as the Bulls hit the road after tonight's contest to take on the Charlotte Hornets for the second time this season, tomorrow.
Overall Miami has been shooting lights out from the field, tickling the twine to the tune of 48.2% overall, and 39.6% from behind the arc. The Heat's offense has been powered by All-Star forward Jimmy Butler, who began his career with the Bulls, at 18.7 points per game. Windy City native Kendrick Nunn is second on the team in scoring with an average of 17.3 points, while veteran guard Goran Dragic chips in 15.8 per night.
But the Heat aren't just a three-headed offensive monster. Second-year guard Duncan Robinson hit seven 3-pointers in the second quarter the other night against Cleveland, pushing a 10-point Heat lead after 12 minutes to 27 by halftime. Robinson finished with a game-high 29 points, while rookie Tyler Hero added 22 off the bench.
As for tonight's contest, the Bulls will have to be aggressive from the opening tip, and keep that intensity going through the final buzzer. Chicago's offense must consistently push the ball up the floor at a fast pace and attack the rim at every opening.
To generate scoring opportunities, the Bulls simply cannot allow its offense to convert to a series of one-on-one battles. Steady ball movement coupled by relentless cutting and slashing through the paint by everyone on the floor, along with a commitment to get the ball into the hands of open teammates on the perimeter or under the basket is essential.
Defensively Chicago cannot afford to forget to rotate or jump out and put a hand in the face of an open shooter behind the arc. They also cannot fail to run back on defense after missing a shot or failing to corral an offensive rebound.
To give themselves the best opportunity to come out on top at the end of the evening the Bulls must play a complete, hardnosed game at both ends of the floor.