Tonight the Bulls are in Salt Lake City, Utah to meet the Jazz in the first of two contests set for this season. The Jazz return home after spending the last week out east where they dropped three of four, the last of which occurred Monday in Philadelphia, falling to the 76ers, 107-86. Utah shot just 35% from the field while allowing the Sixers to hit 51% of their shots. Rookie Donovan Mitchell led the way for the Jazz with a team-high 17 points (6 of 19 overall and 1 of 7 from distance). Former Duke sharp-shooter, Rodney Hood, came off the bench with 13 points while veteran point guard Ricky Rubio chipped in 12 but only recorded 2 assists in the loss.
For the Bulls tonight closes a back-to-back set after taking on the Lakers yesterday in LA. After this evening's contest Chicago heads immediately to Golden State to meet the Warriors Friday to conclude a four-game West Coast swing over Thanksgiving. The Bulls then return to the United Center Sunday to take on the Miami Heat.
Much like Chicago, the Jazz have been forced to battle a number of injuries this season, and thus have gotten off to a shaky start (7-11). Veteran swingman Joe Johnson, a key member of last year's playoff team, hasn't played since October 30th due to a right wrist injury. Rudy Gobert, Utah's 7'1” shot-blocking center, has missed the last six games due to a right knee injury that's likely to keep him sidelined for at least another month if not longer. Lastly, 6'6” third-year point guard Dante Exum is also a ways away from returning to the floor after undergoing shoulder surgery during the preseason. At least the Bulls received some good news recently, as Zach LaVine (ACL rehab) was cleared to begin practicing with the team Monday, and Niko Mirotic (facial fractures) is ramping up his activities as well. As of this writing, swingman David Nwaba (sprained ankle) also looks to be nearing a return to the hardwood.
Even with all their woes, the Jazz still present a major challenge, as last Saturday in Orlando they blew out the Magic on their home floor by 40 points, 125-85. Rodney Hood heated up and tossed in 31 points, while power forward Derrick Favors went off for 25 points and 11 rebounds. Talented rookie Donovan Mitchell added 12 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. The 6'3” former Louisville Cardinal is averaging 17.5 points and almost 2 steals over the Jazz last 10 games.
Defensively, the Bulls are going to need to keep close tabs on the 3-point arc as the Jazz rank 5th in the league in attempts (532) and 6th in makes (194). Hood is particularly adept from behind the line, hitting 45 of 112 (40.2%), while teammate Joe Ingles has been even deadlier, knocking in 43 of 90 (47.8%) from distance.
Offensively, Chicago's game plan is to put up between 85-to-90 shots overall, with at least 30 from beyond the 3-point arc. In order to achieve this goal it is vital the Bulls share the ball by keeping it moving from player-to-player and from one side of the court to the other. In order to get open looks at the rim Chicago has to force the defense to continually shift. They can't allow the Jazz this evening to repeatedly set-up on defense and close down driving lanes to the rim. Generously sharing the ball also keeps everyone involved in the action. The Bulls are at their most effective when the ball finds its way into every player's hands while teammates constantly dash in-and-out of the paint and around the arc. To that end Chicago's primary ballhandlers need to come in with an aggressive mindset and endlessly look to drive the ball deep into the paint and to take the action directly to the rim.
As a team, the Bulls also need to collectively crash the boards at both ends of the floor, and if they come up short grabbing a missed shot or snaring a loose ball, they can't fail to hustle back defensively to deny Utah the chance to ramp up its attack.
In order to come out on top, the Bulls have to hit the floor running and never ease up. From the opening tip to the final horn Chicago needs to commit to outwork and outhustle every foe.