Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Indiana (12.26.20)

The Bulls return to action at the United Center this evening to take on their longtime Central Division rivals, the Indiana Pacers, for the first time this new season. Fans can catch the action live on TV and radio (NBC Sports Chicago / WSCR-AM 670 / TUDN, Univision 1200AM), beginning at 7:00 PM.

After tonight's contest, the Bulls meet up with the Golden State Warriors tomorrow, also at the United Center. Sunday's tip-off is also set for 7:00 PM and is also on TV and radio.

Chicago comes into this evening looking for a major bounce back after a disappointing 20-point opening night loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

After jumping to a quick 5-2 lead in the first minute of the game, the Bulls began stumbling and turning the ball over while the Hawks, led by All-Star Trae Young, began to soar, taking them to a 42-29 edge after one quarter. The Hawks' 42 first-quarter points marked the most allowed in the opening stanza of an opener in Bulls' franchise history and fell just two points shy of the most points scored in an opening period in NBA history.

Atlanta then put another 41 points on the board in the second, notching a total of 83 by halftime, which marked the second most points allowed in an opening half in Bulls history and only the fourth time in NBA history a team had scored 80 or more in the first two quarters of its season.

And if that wasn't enough of a punch to the face, at one point in the third the Bulls fell behind by as many as 40 points, before somewhat rallying in the fourth, outscoring Atlanta 25-13 to make the final 124-104.

All in all, Atlanta shot 54% (43 for 80) from the field and 40% from behind the 3-point arc.

Seven Hawks scored in double figures, led by Young's 37 on just 12 shots. Young repeatedly made his way to the rim and also drew a number of silly fouls far from the hoop, allowing him to get to the charity stripe 14 times, where he converted on 12. As a team, Atlanta also took command of the boards and paint, outrebounding Chicago 46-37, and outscoring the Bulls 50-44 under the basket. Thus, if Chicago is to right the ship tonight, the defense must tighten up considerably.

Indiana comes in on a high note after pounding the New York Knicks, 121-107, in their season opener Wednesday.

Trailing by five points at the start of the third quarter, the Pacers kicked it into gear, outscoring New York 60-41 in the second half to run away with a 14-point victory. Pacers power forward Domantas Sabonis finished with a career-best 32 points to go along with 13 rebounds, while guard Victor Oladipo found his stroke in the second half, scoring 16 of his 22 points on the night. The two-time All-Star scored Indy's first 11 in the third quarter to lead the charge. Oladipo's backcourt mate, Malcolm Brogdon, also had a terrific season debut with 21 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. And Pacers center Myles Turner had his very own block party at the rim, rejecting eight shots, matching a career-high, while also scoring 10 and ripping down eight boards.

For Chicago to give itself a chance tonight they're going to need to buckle down defensively, making a concerted effort to shut down driving lanes through the paint and force Indiana into contested shots far from the hoop. Collectively, the Bulls have to get physical, sticking close to their assigned man and not allow a lot of breathing room. The guards need to step up their defensive effort by regularly meeting Indiana's ballhandlers deep in the backcourt forcing them to expend extra energy just to get the ball across the 8-second line, eating time on the 24-second shot clock.

Under the basket, Chicago's power players need to keep close tabs on Sabonis and Turner. Both are capable of also stepping outside and hitting from downtown, especially if left alone. But they do most of their damage down low near the hoop. How well the Bulls are able to keep them in check will go a long way in determining who will win this game.

As for offense, Chicago must freely share the ball with one another, quickly skipping it from player-to-player and from side-to-side to force Indiana to scramble. Simply put, the ball cannot stick in anyone players' hand for too long. Constant ball and player movement is key to achieving success.

Both the Bulls and Pacers are at their best when they command the boards and look to get out on the break to post easy scores in transition. So, a gritty, focused effort at both ends of the floor from Chicago should provide the Bulls the opportunity to even their record this evening.