The Bulls and the Utah Jazz come together for the first of two meetings tonight. Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic that struck in early March of 2020, the teams were only able to face each other once last year, with Utah coming out on top, 102-98, at the United Center.
The Jazz jumped to a 25-22 lead after 12 minutes, but Chicago bounced back to lead 51-47 at halftime. The Bulls bridged the back half of the second and the start of the third quarter with a 15-0 run to go up 58-47, but Utah responded with a 24-4 run of their own to jump in front, and closed the stanza leading 76-70.
With the Jazz leading 96-88 late in the fourth, Chicago scored eight straight points, tying the game on a Zach LaVine 3-pointer with 1:43 remaining. Utah's Bojan Bogdanović then calmly sank two free throws, and after a Chicago misfire, Utah's Rudy Gobert posted up down low at the other end of the floor and dunked to make it a four-point game. Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr. then connected on two foul shots with just a handful of seconds on the clock to draw Chicago back within two. Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell then missed a 3-point attempt that Chicago quickly picked up and tossed to a streaking LaVine, who drove to the hoop for a game-tying layup that failed to go down. Utah rebounded the miss layup and got the ball to Mitchell who was immediately fouled. He then knocked home two charity tosses to close the book on the game.
Bogdanović led the Jazz with 19 points, while Mitchell and Gobert each scored 17, with Gobert adding 12 rebounds.
Utah's bench also contributed mightily to the victory, as they outscored Chicago's reserves, 36-23.
LaVine led the Bulls with a game-high 26 points, followed by Carter Jr. with a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds. Lauri Markkanen chipped in 18 points as well.
As for tonight's contest, the Jazz have split their last six games, but they'll be looking to build momentum after outlasting the Toronto Raptors in a 115-112 road win on Friday. Mitchell led the team with 31 points and six assists, Joe Ingles added 19 points and another six assists off the bench, while Gobert and Mike Conley each scored 15 points.
As a team, the Jazz shot 45% from the field and went 12 for 37 from the 3-point line. But it was Utah's overall aggressiveness that proved to be the difference maker, as they outscored the Raptors at the free throw line, 35-11, and out-rebounded them, 56-36.
Meanwhile, the Bulls have split their last eight games. They're also looking to build momentum after blowing past the Detroit Pistons, 100-86, last night in Motown.
LaVine led the team with 18 points, and Markkanen chipped in 16 points and eight rebounds. Bulls rookie Patrick Williams also delivered 10 points. However, no other Chicago player scored in double figures.
As a team, the Bulls connected on 46% from the field, and hit a blistering 14 of 28 from the 3-point line. But it was the team's overall defensive effort that delivered the victory, as Chicago held the Pistons to four of 25 from the 3-point line.
As a team Utah averages 116.7 points on 46.7% shooting and allows 108.9 points on 45.3% from the field.
Mitchell leads the way with 25.3 points and 5.4 assists while Jordan Clarkson comes off the pine, adding 17.6 points and 2.2 assists.
Mike Conley is the team's third double-digit scorer at 16.4 per game while Gobert puts up 14.4 points and grabs 13.5 rebounds, to go along with 2.8 blocks.
The Jazz are shooting a pretty stout 39.5% from beyond the arc and 78.1% from the free throw line, while holding foes to 35.8% from deep.
The Bulls come in averaging 114 points while shooting 48.1%. Defensively, Chicago is allowing the opposition 113.8 points on 47.2% shooting.
LaVine is the team's top offensive threat with 28.3 points and five assists, followed by Markkanen at 18.2 points and 5.9 rebounds. Coby White is the Bulls' third double-digit scorer at 15.3 points per game.
As a team, the Bulls shoot an impressive 38% from the arc and 80.2% from the free throw line. They're also handing out 24.6 assists and snaring 44.9 rebounds per game.
For Chicago's offense to run smoothy the ball must freely jump from player-to-player. Swift and decisive passing often compels defenses to overreact and in time breakdown. Quick sharing of the ball helps to free up driving lanes to the rim and generate open looks for shooters outside. Most importantly, Chicago must avoid falling into the trap of slowing down the pace and relying on an isolation strategy where one player attempts to take on his defender one-on-one. Selfless sharing of the ball with constant player movement in and out of the paint and all around the 3-point arc will always succeed to generate an efficient and potent offensive attack.
Chicago must also do a far better job of taking care of the ball, keeping turnovers to no more than a dozen every game. The best teams don't panic and carelessly toss the ball away whenever an opponent applies extra pressure. So far this season the Bulls have been one of the NBA's worst turnover teams. That must change, especially so tonight.
Defensively, Chicago will need to continue running shooters off the 3-point line. So far, they've limited foes to just 11.2 made 3-pointers a game, and as mentioned earlier, a very ordinary 34.3% make rate. The Jazz can light it up from outside, particularly if they get wide-open looks. They come into tonight as the NBA's most prolific 3-point shooters, ranking No. 1 in attempts (1754 / 42.8 per game) and makes (639 / 16.9 per game).
Mitchell leads the long-distance onslaught with 8.7 attempts, followed by Clarkson (8.5), Conley (6.6), Bogdanović (6.5) and Joe Ingles off the bench at 5.5 per game.
Besides shutting down the arc, Chicago must also buckle down in the paint and do whatever is necessary to stop Gobert from taking command of the boards. Achieving both these goals would give the Bulls opportunities to control the pace of the game and a number of chances to run out on the break to post easy scores.
If Chicago hits the hardwood sporting an aggressive mindset by running out of the gate from the start, and sustaining that intensity for all four quarters, they'll give themselves a real shot of posting a signature victory against the NBA's top team.