Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Kings (01.21.17)

The bruised and battered Sacramento Kings make their only trip to the Windy City tonight to take on the Chicago Bulls, who like their North Central California brethren, are also closing out a set of back-to-back games. Sacramento was in Memphis last night taking on the Grizzlies while the Bulls were in Atlanta to face the high-flying Hawks.

The Kings have certainly had a rough start to season as they come in at 16-26 after yesterday’s loss in Memphis. Unfortunately,life doesn’t seem to be getting any easier for them as tonight is the second game of an eight-game, two-week road trip. After this evening the Kings head to Detroit on Monday, followed by stops in Cleveland, Indiana, Charlotte, Philadelphia and Houston before finally heading back home at the end of the month.

Sacramento also suffered a devastating injury to a key player earlier this week when Rudy Gay attempted to drive the baseline late in the third quarter Wednesday night against Indiana. Gay was looking to finish strong at the basket, but unfortunately he didn’t make it. The 10-year veteran who was averaging 18.7 points and 6.3 rebounds this season, attempted to lift off but instead he went down in a heap after rupturing his left Achilles’ tendon, and is now lost for the year.

As for Chicago, they seem to be on a never-ending roller-coaster ride this season, as there have been a number of highs and lows mixed in during the first half of the year. Electrifying victories over top teams such as Cleveland (twice), Toronto, Boston, San Antonio, Charlotte and Memphis have often been dulled by head-scratching defeats to teams sitting well under .500 in the likes of New York (twice), Dallas (twice), Denver and Portland.

For the Bulls to come out on top this evening, they’ll need to charge out of the blocks as soon as the ball is tipped off. Chicago will have to hit the hardwood with a great deal of energy and come to work determined and highly focused.

A hint as to how well the Bulls are going play on any given night is just how hard they crash the boards at both ends of the floor. Chicago currently leads the league in rebounding with an average of 47.6 per game, while Sacramento, who is led by one of the NBA’s top big men in DeMarcus Cousins (28 points and 10 rebounds), sits near the bottom (No. 29) snagging just 40.7 rebounds a night. The Bulls also sit at the top of the league in offensive rebounding, pulling down an impressive 13.6 per game, while the Kings are 21st at 9.4.

So far this season, Sacramento has outrebounded or tied an opponent on the glass 19 times in their first 42 games, and have gone 8-11 on those occasions. Chicago, on the other hand, has outrebounded their opponent 30 times and are 18-12 when that happens. In fact, the Bulls have grabbed 50 or more rebounds 14 times and have won 11 of those contests.  

Since neither the Bulls nor Kings are a particularly good outside shooting team, with Sacramento in the middle of the pack at No. 15 (45.3%) and Chicago near the bottom at No. 27 (43.4%), chances are there will be a lot of rebounding opportunities this evening, and thus another important aspect should greatly favor the Bulls in that they continue to lead the league in second-chance scoring at 16.2 per game, while Sacramento is 24th at 11.4 points.

Offensively, Chicago seems to kick into gear when they adamantly push the ball up the floor and keep it jumping from player-to-player and from side-to-side. For the Bulls to have a good offensive night, the ball has to skip freely between every player and not end up glued onto anyone’s hands for too long. When the ball is shared, the scoreboard tends to light up. However, when the Bulls fall into the trap of running isolation, one-on-one sets, they have trouble scoring.

Another important element that has to happen if the Bulls are going to enjoy any success offensively is that they must spread out in order to space the floor in hopes of unlocking paths to the rim. Chicago won’t win many jump-shooting contests, but by positioning players far apart they force defenders to leave the paint, which in turn grants opportunities to drive and attack the rim, forcing the defense to scramble and foul.

As a team, Chicago has done a terrific job of getting to the free throw line this season. Heading into the weekend the Bulls are outscoring opponents 838-609 at the charity stripe. That’s a whopping 229 extra points on the board for Chicago.

To sum up, Chicago’s mission is to come out fast and strong at both ends of the floor and not slow down at any time. From the opening tip to the final buzzer, the Bulls need to be aggressive and have a tenacious mindset.

They need to take control of the boards right away — at both ends of the floor. They also can’t relax and fail to hustle back defensively.

Chicago’s guards and wings, in particular, should always be at the ready to jump the passing lanes in hopes of upsetting Sacramento’s offensive flow. And as a team, the Bulls have to commit themselves to playing a physical game. They are going to have to fight through picks and be willing to knock anyone down if they try to attack the iron for an easy score.

Basically, Chicago needs to come out of the locker room hungry and determined this evening in order to successfully defend its home floor.

— Anthony Hyde