Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Jazz (12.13.17)

Tonight the Chicago Bulls welcome the Utah Jazz to the United Center to close out the season series between the two clubs. Utah ran away with the first game played in Salt Lake City, 110-80, back on November 22nd. Derrick Favors led the Jazz with 23 points while Rodney Hood chipped in 19 off the bench.

Although Chicago scored a season-low 80 points, four Bulls did reach double-figures in scoring, led by Robin Lopez's 15. Point guard Kris Dunn also reached double-digits with 12 points that night and added a career-high 9 rebounds as well. The game was decided at the arc and off the bench as the Jazz knocked down 14 three-pointers to Chicago's 4 and Utah's bench outscored the Bulls' 51-36.

The last time these two teams met also kick-started Utah to a six-game win streak, but the tables have been turned as the Jazz arrive in town having lost three-in-a-row, the last of which occurred in Milwaukee on Saturday, with the Bucks powering their way to a 117-100 victory, dropping Utah's record to 13-14 on the season.

The Bulls, on the other hand have suddenly become red hot of late, having won three-in-a-row after thumping the Boston Celtics at the UC on Monday, 108-85. Forwards Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis combined for 47 points and 12 rebounds to lead the way for Chicago.

Even with all their recent woes, the Jazz present a major challenge. Slowly but surely they are getting healthy after being forced to fight for survival without the help of a number of key players, including Rudy Gobert (leg), Joe Johnson (wrist) and Rodney Hood (ankle) for long stretches. Gobert returned to action last week and enjoyed a strong game against the Bucks over the weekend, finishing with 20 points and 9 rebounds. As for Johnson and Hood, Johnson is still on the mend but very close to returning, while all indications suggest Hood plans to give it a go this evening against the Bulls after having missed Utah's last seven games.

Defensively, Chicago will have to keep close tabs on the 3-point arc as the Jazz rank 3rd in the league in long distance shooting (38.6%). Hood, who leads the team in scoring with an average of 17.7 points a game, hits on 40.2% of his long ball attempts while Joe Ingles ranks 10th in the league with a mark of 45.8% from behind the bend. Another player who bears watching is rookie Donovan Mitchell, who seized a starting spot early in the year, and over Utah's last eight games has averaged 24.4 points.

In order to slow Utah down Chicago must stay tied together defensively and do an excellent job of communicating to force the Jazz to work extra hard to score. Chicago's guards need to consistently pressure the ball up-and-down the floor while the rest of the team never loses sight of their assigned man in order to make it tough for Utah to slip into a comfort rhythm.

A primary key each game for the Bulls is to wrestle control of the boards. As a team Chicago has had a great deal of trouble this season putting points on the board, as they come into tonight ranked 29th in scoring (97.3) and last in shooting (42.4%). To give themselves a chance of coming out on top the Bulls have to dominate the glass, especially at the defensive end, as doing so leads to fastbreaks and easy scoring opportunities.

As a general rule the Bulls want to establish a fast pace. They have to quickly drive the ball up the court and freely share it, making the ball hop from side-to-side and player-to-player. In order to generate good looks at the basket they need to make Utah's defense shift and expend energy. They have to draw the Jazz away from the basket to free up driving lanes through the paint. Freely sharing the ball also gets everyone involved in the action.

In short, Chicago's primary task is to play aggressively in every phase of the game and never back off. The Bulls are at their most effective when the ball moves about with every player getting a touch. To that end both Chicago's point guard, Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant, need to show up with a hardnosed attitude and be willing to drive the ball deep into the paint at every opportunity. Collectively, the Bulls must come out focused and keep their poise whenever Utah's defense attempts to turn up the pressure.

The team that establishes an aggressive tone from the opening tip and refuses to let up, fighting for every rebound and loose ball, will come out on top this evening.

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