Tonight the Bulls and the Charlotte Hornets come together for the first of four games this season. Both are looking to get back on track as each hit the hardwood riding five-game losing streaks.
The Hornets came close to ending their skid Wednesday at home against Cleveland, but the Cavs were able to separate themselves during the 4th quarter to escape the Queen City with a 115-107 victory. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist shot 10 of 14 from the field and led Charlotte with a season-high 22 points, three shy of his career best. All-Star point guard Kemba Walker chipped in 20, while Nicolas Batum played his first game of the season after a tearing a ligament in his left elbow last month. The crafty forward started for Charlotte and scored 16 points in 32 minutes.
The Bulls suffered another frustrating loss their last time out, this time to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 92-79, in OKC Wednesday as well. Chicago got off to a horrific start, setting a franchise record low for first-quarter points in posting 7 while the Thunder rumbled their way to 27 points over the first 12 minutes of play. Chicago’s starting five hit on only one of their first 11 shot attempts, and the team as a whole committed 8 turnovers. The sloppy play then carried over into the second stanza as the Bulls committed another 6 turnovers and were buried 58-34 at the half. Afterwards Chicago got its act together and outscored the Thunder 45-34 in the second half, but they never really came close to making the game competitive. Rookies Lauri Markkanen (16 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block) and Antonio Blakeney (16 points, 3-6 3FG) were the lone bright spots for the Bulls.
Realistically for the Bulls to have a chance of winning, they have to do a much better job of coming out of the gates focused and determined and not allow themselves to lose confidence if their first few shots miss the mark. They also have to do a far better job of taking care of the ball while always looking to establish a fast pace by driving the ball up the floor in a hurry and freely sharing it player-to-player and from side-to-side.
To that end the Bulls will need to open up the floor this evening, spreading out all over the offensive end in order to force the defense to cover a lot of ground. Chicago’s guards, in particular Kris Dunn, Jerian Grant and Antonio Blakeney, will also need to set their minds to attack-mode and constantly eye opportunities to drive the ball deep into the paint with a willingness to take the action to the rim. Charlotte has one of the NBA’s finest big men defenders in Dwight Howard who loves to roam the paint and has never been shy about banging into anyone attempting a layup. Because of that attitude, Howard is prone to getting into foul trouble. Chicago’s guards constantly need to challenge Howard, forcing him to work hard defensively, and as a team, the Bulls will need to crash the boards hard at both ends of the floor.
To sum up, Chicago must come out of the gates fast and strong. At no time can they afford to hang their heads or lose confidence. A primary key every game for the Bulls to take command of the boards. So far they have had a great deal of trouble putting points on the board, as they’re dead last in the league in scoring (92.4) and shooting (40.5%). Thus in order to have a chance the Bulls must commit to outwork Charlotte on the glass, especially on the defensive end as doing that can help keep the pace of the game fast and open opportunities for Chicago to get into transition to score easy baskets.
Generally the Bulls would like to attempt something close to 90 shots a game, with at least 30 from beyond the arc. In order for them to get open looks at the basket the ball has to jump from player-to-player with everyone getting involved in the action. The Bulls need to hit the floor with a determined attitude, and collectively commit to outworking and outhustling the Hornets in every way imaginable.