Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Kings (12.10.18)

Tonight the Bulls look to turn the page and bounce back after suffering their most lopsided loss in franchise history (a 56-point trouncing at the hands of Boston, Saturday) when they tip-off against the Sacramento Kings at the United Center. The Kings come into tonight's contest with a record of 13-12 on the year, while Chicago sits at 6-21. Tonight also closes the books on a four-game road swing for Sacramento, who has won three of its last four games.

Under the direction of newly appointed head coach Jim Boylen, Chicago's offensive plan of attack is to slow things down, getting into transition only when favorable while primarily looking to set-up in the halfcourt with the idea of grinding the shot-clock down before shooting to force opponents burn extra energy on defense. For this plan to work effectively the Bulls need to get all five players involved in the action. They cannot allow their offense to morph into a series of ball-stopping one-on-one battles. The ball must freely skip from player-to-player and from one side to the other side to force the Kings to scramble about and lose focus. The Bulls also need to be savvy with the ball and avoid forcing any action with risky passes that can get picked off and ignite Sacramento's high-powered offense.

The Kings rank sixth in the league in scoring at 114.5 per game. They certainly aren't shy when it comes to shooting as they get up the third most shots in the league at 91.8 attempts per contest, mostly from inside the three-point arc (69.7% of their scoring comes from mid-range or under the basket). However, when Sacramento does launch from downtown, their aim has proven true as they're also the second-best three-point shooting team in the NBA at 38.6%. Starting power forward Nemanja Bjelica is knocking-down 47.6% of this threes, while starting shooting guard Buddy Hield connects 42.2% of the time. Starting small forward Bogdan Bogdanovic can also hurt opponents from far away, shooting 37.2% on 5.6 attempts a game.

The player who truly sets the tone for Sacramento is second-year point guard De'Aaron Fox. The former Kentucky Wildcat has enjoyed a breakout season, averaging 17.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 1.4 steals per night. Very few, if any others in the league are as quick and explosive as Fox going coast-to-coast. With Fox behind the wheel the Kings have been the NBA's second-best pace setters with a rating of 105.2, which has helped them average 21.6 fastbreak points a game, the best in the league. Sacramento's ability to get down the court in a hurry has also helped them become one of the NBA's top scorers in the paint (54.2 points a game).

Thus Chicago's team defense is going to not only have to pay close attention to the arc, especially whenever Hield and Bjelica hang about there, but the Bulls also need to be mindful to hurry back on defense if they miss and fail to corral a rebound on the offensive end of the floor.

Tonight's contest will be another in a long series of tough tests for the Bulls. This past weekend they proved capable of beating good teams in knocking-off the Oklahoma City Thunder in thrilling fashion Friday, 114-112. However, 24-hours later they laid an egg, allowing Boston to hammer them by 56-points in front of their home fans at the UC.

For years the Sacramento Kings have languished near the bottom of the league in almost every category, but this season they have turned the corner and are one of the NBA's surprise teams. Sacramento is playing well — especially of late — and they would love nothing better than close their current road trip out on a high note. In order to keep the Kings at bay the Bulls need to shake off the memory of the Celtics game and come out of the gates in aggressive fashion, staying determined throughout tonight's contest. Every player that steps onto the hardwood must bring maximum effort and make their presence felt. In order for Chicago to succeed they have to gritty and play with an edge, leaving everything they have out on the floor. There's a possibility that both Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis could return to action after missing most of the season with MCL sprains. If one of both do play, it can't help but provide the Bulls with a much needed boost of energy and confidence.