Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Jazz (03.23.19)

Tonight the Chicago Bulls (21-52) welcome the likely playoff-bound Utah Jazz (42-30) to the United Center to close-out the annual two-game season series between the teams. Utah won the opening contest in Salt Lake City, 110-102, behind guard Donovan Mitchell's game-high 34 points, and center Rudy Gobert's double-double of 15 points and 16 rebounds. Gobert also dished a career-high eight assists. While Kyle Korver (16 points) and Joe Ingles (16 points) also made an impact.

In what was a fairly tight game from start-to-finish, the Jazz bested the Bulls in fastbreak scoring (11-6), rebounds (52-47), made 3-pointers (16-7) and blocks (11-7). Chicago, however, drove through the paint most of the game without fear and outscored Utah 54-32 down low.

Six Bulls scored in double figures, led by Zach LaVine's 21 and Lauri Markkanen's 16.

Utah saw its five-game win streak snapped in Atlanta on Thursday, 117-114, despite having all five starters post double figures in scoring. Hawks rookie Trae Young's go-ahead three-point play late in the fourth quarter sealed the victory for the Hawks. Young led his team with 23 points and 11 assists, as Atlanta outscored Utah 31-23 in the final stanza. The Hawks reserves also provided punch off the bench, outscoring Utah's backups 40-23 to help win the game.

Once again, Donovan Mitchell proved he's a special player, posting a game-high 34 points in 36 minutes for the Jazz. Gobert (12 points, 11 rebounds) and power forward Derrick Favors (15 points, 15 rebounds) also achieved double-doubles.

As for the Bulls, they come in this evening having won two in a row after knocking out the Washington Wizards, 126-120, in overtime here at the UC on Wednesday.

With Otto Porter Jr. (right rotator cuff strain) and Zach LaVine (right thigh contusion) out of action due to injury, Markkanen (32 points, 13 rebounds) and starting point guard Kris Dunn (season-high 26 points, 13 assists) stepped up to lead the charge. Markkanen nailed five 3-pointers, including a key one in OT, while Dunn hit two 3's in the extra five minutes, and converted a pair of clutch free throws to give the Bulls breathing room before the clock ticked all the way down.

Chicago swingman Shaq Harrison also had a terrific game, going 7-for-13 from the field in contributing 18 points, four steals and six rebounds in a career-high 39 minutes.

Both Porter Jr. and LaVine are at best, questionable, for tonight, while Utah looks to be fully healthy as of this writing.

In order for the Bulls to continue down a winning path they'll need to bring a great deal of energy and spitfire to the floor tonight.

Chicago is at its best when they play a fast-paced, selfless game by taking control of the boards and freely passing the ball from player-to-player and from side-to-side, getting everyone involved. They'll need to force Utah's defense to scramble by relentlessly attacking the basket at every opportunity. What kept the Bulls in the game the last time against the Jazz was their willingness to challenge Utah's resolve at the rim, in spite of Gobert being one of the best shot-blockers in the game.

Collectively, the Bulls need to sport that gritty attitude again by being physical, especially when it comes to rebounding and igniting fastbreak opportunities. Both offensively and defensively the Bulls have to establish a breakneck flow to the game. They need to take advantage of their speed and athleticism by getting out on the break early and often in order to score easy buckets before Utah can set up its defense.

Besides trying to keep Mitchell in check, the Jazz present a number of other challenges. Gobert stands 7'1” and ranks second in the league in double-doubles (57). Aptly nicknamed “The Stifle Tower” for his ability to protect the rim, the 26-year old Frenchman is the NBA's reigning Defensive Player of the Year.

Offensively, Gobert is a dunk machine. He won't shoot from more than five feet away, but he's always eager to posterize a defender trying to stop him from getting to the iron.

Another big man the Bulls need pay some attention to is veteran power forward Derrick Favors, who has always been a pest on the offensive glass. He comes in averaging 11.6 points and 7.5 rebounds.

Sixth man Jae Crowder's ability to knock down 3s helps to open driving lanes to the hoop for Mitchell and frees up room for Gobert to operate under the basket, as well as fellow sniper Joe Ingles on the opposite side of the arc. Crowder is a blue-collar, hard-hat, lunch-pail carrying glue-guy. He repeatedly creates havoc by hustling and sacrificing his body all over the hardwood.

One more Jazzman Chicago will definitely need to keep an eye on is former Bulls swingman Kyle Korver, who returned to Utah via trade earlier this season. The 15-year, 38-year old three-point specialist has averaged 9.6 points while shooting 47.9% from behind the arc against the Bulls in his career. Chicago's defense cannot afford to lose sight of him around the arc, for if they do, Korver will take full advantage.

From the opening tip until the final buzzer the Bulls need to outhustle the Jazz in every way. Utah has a lot to play for down the stretch as they currently sit as the 7th seed (via tie-breakers) in the West, 3 games behind Houston in third, and 2.5 back of Portland for fourth. Currently THEY'RE deadlocked with Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the LA Clippers for 5th through 8th with 10 games left to play.

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