The Bulls return to the home hardwood this evening looking to sweep the visiting Sacramento Kings at the United Center. Chicago captured the first matchup, 113-106, in Sacramento back on December 2nd.
The Kings stormed to a hot start, running out to 17-7 edge by the 5:28 mark of the opening stanza. However, Chicago eventually found its groove, pulling within a point by the end of 12 minutes. The Bulls then went on to take the lead for good in the second behind an impressive 25-8 run.
Defensively, Chicago stifled Sacramento's 3-point attack, holding the Kings to a paltry 27.3% from behind the arc (9-of-33), while they connected on 43.2% (16-of-37) of their shots from long distance. Zach LaVine led the way with a game-high 28 points, while Lauri Markkanen added 20 points and seven rebounds.
On Wednesday the Bulls bested Minnesota, 117-110, behind another stellar one-two punch effort from LaVine and Markkanen. LaVine posted seven clutch points down the stretch, including knocking down a 3-pointer to put Chicago ahead for good with just 1:26 remaining. He finished with a team-best 25 points, while Markkanen hit four treys on his way to a 21-point night. The victory was the Bulls' fourth in their last seven games.
As for the Kings, they stagger into town amid a six-game losing streak, with tonight's contest being their fourth in a five-game road trek.
The other night in Detroit, Sacramento was runover by the Pistons, 127-106. Once again they had a tough night from behind the arc, connecting on only 28.6% (10-of-35) of their shots from downtown. However, the Bulls can't afford to take anything for granted, as they will need to keep close tabs on three highly talented guards in starters De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, as well as Bogdan Bogdanovic. Against Detroit, Fox led the Kings' attack with 22 points, while Bogdanovic posted 19 off the bench. Hield, who generally makes his money shooting from far away, added 14 points, but shot just 2-of-9 from behind the arc. All-in-all, Hield's a legitimate long-distance sniper. Coming into tonight he's hit 156 3s, which is the third most in the league.
A major key to winning tonight for the Bulls will be employing a hardnosed, take-no-prisons approach at both ends of the floor.
To put points on the board, Chicago must play unselfishly, generously sharing the ball, bouncing it from player-to-player and from one side of the court to the other while always searching for opportunities to attack the rim.
All five Bulls on the floor need to stay involved in the action. The ball simply can't end up stuck in any one player's hands while the rest stand around and watch. To succeed, Chicago's attack cannot morph into a series of isolation, one-on-one battles.
Defensively, the Bulls need to get physical, delivering a rough and tumble effort with everyone making it difficult for every uniformed King to create space and operate in the open. Collectively, Chicago must go all out for every rebound and loose ball and outhustle Sacramento in every way.
To accomplish these objectives the Bulls must come in focused and poised, communicating openly on defense and recognizing when to jump passing lanes and double-team the ball. On the year, they're forcing opponents to turn the ball over a league-best 18.2 per game. In fact, opponents have committed 20-or-more fumbles 14 times, which is also the most in the league.
To end up as the last team standing, Chicago must get solid contributions from everyone up-and-down the bench. Sacramento is just too talented to continue to lose night after night. They are most likely going to try to hit the floor running and play a fast-paced game. The Bulls are at their best when they play fast, as well. Thus, tonight should be a fun, entertaining contest.