Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Kings (12.01.17)

Tonight the Chicago Bulls finish a back-to-back set of games by meeting the Sacramento Kings at the United Center. Last night Chicago came up short in the final seconds in Denver, 111-110. Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez led the Bulls with 20 points apiece, while Kris Dunn added 19.

Sacramento comes to town tipping-off a four game road swing that takes them to Milwaukee tomorrow, Cleveland Wednesday and down to New Orleans a week from tonight.

The Kings are an interesting bunch in that their roster is a mishmash of greybeards and youth, highlighted by 40-year old Vince Carter (20-year NBA veteran), 36-year old Zach Randolph (17 years in the NBA), a pair of 10-year vets in George Hill and Kosta Koufos to go along with rookies De’Aaron Fox (19-years old), Justin Jackson (22-years old), Frank Mason III (23-years old) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (25-years old) as well as second-year sharpshooter Buddy Hield (23-years old).

Head Coach Dave Joerger’s blueprint is for his team to be stingy defensively, but free-flowing on offense, employing a fast and rhythmic pace. Yet most of his veterans prefer a measured halfcourt game, while the youngsters want to run all the time. Thus it isn’t surprising the Kings have struggled to find its true identity as they enter tonight with a record of 6-15.

Randolph leads Sacramento in scoring at 12.9 points, with Hield not too far behind at 12.1. Fox, who was the 5th overall pick in this past June’s NBA Draft, does a terrific job of attacking the rim while also searching for teammates around the perimeter. Hill and Hield are very capable of getting hot at the drop of a dime, and so the Bulls cannot afford to allow Fox free reign to dart in-and-out of the paint nor can they leave Hill or Hield uncovered along the arc. Hill is knocking down 46.8% of his 3s while Hield is right behind at 44.3%.

To that end offensively, Chicago will need to open up the floor this evening in order to force Sacramento’s defense to cover a lot of ground. Guards Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant have to come into tonight with an aggressive mindset, and relentlessly take the action to the iron while also playing the role of high-energy facilitator, getting the ball into the hands of every open teammate. Having said that, Dunn and Grant can’t be the only players willing to take the ball into the paint. Part of Chicago’s scoring problem this season has been the team’s eagerness to settle for quick, outside (and oftentimes contested) jumpers instead of driving hard to the rim and forcing opponents to step-up. Overall the Bulls attempt the least amount of free throws in league (16.4 per game). That has to change in order for them to take strides in a positive direction. Last night in Denver the Bulls were forceful going to the hoop, outscoring the Nuggets 56-42 in the paint. Thanks to that aggression Chicago also found its way to the charity stripe for 21 free throws, which is more of the norm throughout the league.

The Bulls’ plan each and every game is to put up between 85-to-90 shots, with close to 30 coming from beyond the 3-point arc. But in order to achieve such goals Chicago needs to keep the ball on the move, jumping from one side of the court to the other. Generously sharing the ball gets everyone involved in the action. The Bulls have been their most effective when the ball moves freely about, finding its way into every player’s hands.

As a team, Chicago must also crash the boards at both ends of the floor, and if they fail to come up with a missed shot or loose ball, hustle to the other end of the floor in order and deny Sacramento opportunities to get into transition where they can score easy baskets.

In order to come out on the winning end this evening the Bulls have to hit the floor running from the opening tip to the final buzzer. They must commit to outhustling Sacramento in every way imaginable.