The Chicago Bulls return home to take on the Charlotte Hornets for the second time this season. In the first meeting, Chicago's Zach LaVine displayed a polished, all-around game in leading the Bulls to a 123-110 road victory.
LaVine sat atop the Chicago stat sheet by posting a team-high 25 points and nine assists, along with six rebounds. The veteran guard who later became a first-time All-Star, hit 8 of 12 shots and converted six free throws.
Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen also chipped in 23 points while Coby White added 18 along with eight assists for the winners.
As a team, Chicago dished 33 assists, capturing its third straight win at the time. The Bulls' bench also came up big, outscoring Charlotte's, 46-20.
Gordon Hayward led the Charlotte attack with a game-high 34 points, while Devonte Graham delivered a season-high 24 points, 22 coming in the opening half.
The Hornets committed 20 turnovers, leading to 26 Chicago points.
The Bulls' principal task this evening is to shut down the paint. Chicago has taken residence at the bottom of the league when it comes to defending the basket. Opponents have seemingly been granted a free pass all season to drive straight to the hoop with very little resistance. Heading into tonight, the Bulls rank 27th out of 30 in allowing 50.2 points in the paint. Last night in Cleveland, Chicago failed defensively in just about every way imaginable, allowing the 21-37 Cavaliers to run up a 121-105 victory on 51.1% shooting. Almost half of Cleveland's points were scored in the paint, as they relentlessly attacked the rim in posting 56 points compared to Chicago's 48. If the Bulls are to come out on top tonight, that can't happen again.
The best way to tighten things up on defense is to do a far better job of communicating and understanding when to rotate and help each other if an opponent frees himself from a defender and heads directly to the hoop. As a collective unit, Chicago has to take the floor each and every game with a feisty attitude and be willing to get physical. A consistent message needs to be delivered that whenever anyone looks to drive the ball to the rim against them, he's going to wind up on the floor.
Another important key for Chicago is to command the boards at both ends of the floor, forcing opponents to operate away from the basket, denying them opportunities to pile up points in transition.
Offensively, Chicago must be unselfish, constantly passing the ball from player-to-player and bouncing it from side-to-side. Free-flowing ball and player movement places pressure on defenses to respond, and if that movement fails to relent, defenses frequently fall apart. Fluid ball movement also makes it easier to attack the basket and finish at the rim with high percentage shots. It also helps to keep everyone in the flow of the game.
Nikola Vučević's recent addition has allowed Chicago to adjust its offense at the start of games. Early and often these days the Bulls look to get the ball into his hands under the basket because he's one of the NBA's most efficient scorers.
Besides owning a velvet touch near the rim, Vučević is also capable of stepping behind the three-point arc to knock down shots. He's currently shooting 41.6% from long distance, firmly placing him in the top 15 in the league.
Vučević's skillset makes it impossible for opposing pivots to take root under the basket all game long. Once he steps outside and hits from deep, his defender is compelled to abandon the paint to shadow him. That makes life easier for Chicago's ballhandlers to operate and find teammates cutting to the hoop for layups and easy scores.
All in all, for Chicago to be successful they have to aggressively zero in on the task at hand and maintain that mentality throughout the night. The Bulls must demonstrate a willingness to do whatever it takes to win. If they do, they'll always give themselves a shot of coming out on top.