Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Kings (02.20.21)

The Bulls return home to close the book on a back-to-back set of games after falling short in Philadelphia last night, 112-105. Tonight, the Sacramento Kings come to town for their only visit. The team's met in early January out in California, so this will be the final time these teams will go toe-to-toe this season.

Tonight's contest starts a little later than usual, as tip-off is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. (CT). Fans can catch the action on NBC Sports Chicago, or if you can't get to a TV, you can always listen to Bulls games on the radio at WSCR-AM 670. Since tonight's a home game, fans can also hear a Spanish broadcast over TUDN, Univision 1200-AM.

A fundamental goal every game for the Bulls is to be aggressive and get off to a fast start. Chicago is at its best when they storm out of the gates and establish a speedy pace right away.

The Bulls are blessed with a great deal of youth and athleticism. When they collectively go hard after every rebound and look to get out on the break, running down the floor, good things usually happen, as they're likely going to post a lot of easy scores in transition.

For Chicago's offense to click, the ball has to freely hop from player-to-player. Quick, purposeful passing compels defenses to overcompensate, and if they fail to effectively communicate with one another, the defense will fall apart. Plus, speedy passes usually free up driving lanes to the rim and generates open looks for shooters stationed outside.

Chicago definitely cannot allow their offense to slow down or morph into one player attempting to take on the defense all by himself. Constant ball and player movement, in and out of the paint and all around the 3-point arc, is crucial to creating an efficient offensive tempo.

The Kings come to town in a rut, as they've lost five straight. There's absolutely no reason why it can't end up at six in a row at the end of tonight if the Bulls do a good job of executing their plan of attack.

In the first matchup played in Sacramento in early January, the Kings successfully defended their home floor, beating the Bulls, 128-124.

Buddy Hield, converted a clutch four-point play with just 38 seconds left to give Sacramento breathing room at a key moment in the game. Hield had missed 12 of his first 14 shots, including going 1-for-8 from deep, before he knocked down that dagger from the top of the arc while also getting fouled by Garrett Temple. Hield sank the ensuing free throw to give the Kings a 124-119 lead and finished the night with 10 points.

Sacramento first-round draft pick, Tyrese Haliburton, also played a major role in the outcome as he scored 15 of his then season-high 17 points in the fourth quarter. Haliburton followed Hield's pivotal trey with one of his own against a pair of Chicago defenders to seal the victory and snap a three-game losing streak.

Sacramento forward Marvin Bagley III also chipped in 21 points and 12 rebounds, as the Kings played most of the game without starting point guard, De'Aaron Fox, who strained his right hamstring midway through the first quarter and did not return.

Richaun Holmes led Sacramento with a team-high 24 points, and he also contributed eight rebounds and five assists, while veteran Harrison Barnes also notched 20 points.

The Bulls were led by second-year playmaker Coby White, who recorded a career-high 36 points while also handing out seven assists. Zach LaVine was next in line for Chicago with 32 points and starting center Wendell Carter Jr. posted a double-double with 11 points and a career-best 17 rebounds.

Last night in Philly, the 76ers had three players register double digit rebounds, with MVP candidate Joel Embiid leading the way with 17, followed by Tobias Harris with 12 and Dwight Howard collecting 10 off the bench. As a team, Philly won the battle of the boards 53-42, and outscored the Bulls 23-16 in second-chance points. However, Chicago held their own when it came to scoring in the paint, besting the 76ers 56-52.

To come out on top tonight, Chicago is going to need to do a far better job on the glass than yesterday's effort. They must collectively hit the boards hard at both ends of the floor, and limit Sacramento's second-chance scoring opportunities to under a dozen.

The Bulls also need to keep the Kings out of the paint as much as possible. Fox is healthy again and unbelievably fast with the ball in his hands. He will relentlessly look to wreak havoc by attacking the basket at every opportunity. For the season Fox is averaging 22.8 points and makes his way to the free throw line over six times a game. Chicago's guards will need to force him to live outside as much as possible to limit his effectiveness.

Haliburton is another player that likes to go on the attack, but he's also capable of knocking down clutch treys from downtown if opportunity knocks. Attention needs to be paid whenever he's on the floor.

If the Bulls come out of the chute fast and demonstrate a scrappy attitude, they'll give themselves a great shot at coming away with a victory.