Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Knicks (11.04.16)

The Bulls (3-1) and the New York Knicks (1-3) come together for the first of three meetings, but tonight’s contest is the only one scheduled to take place at the United Center. Chicago is looking to bounce back after suffering its first loss, 107-100, at Boston on Wednesday. Although once again the Bulls owned the boards, outrebounding the Celtics 49-39, careless and sloppy ball protection resulted in 19 turnovers, which proved too much to overcome. Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 23 points and nine rebounds, while stretch-four sniper, Nikola Mirotic, came off the bench firing, posting 17 points (3-of-6 from downtown, 8-of-11 from the charity stripe) in 35 minutes. Veteran point man, Rajon Rondo, also enjoyed a solid game for Chicago, notching his first double-double on the year with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Not looking to make excuses, but Chicago came into Wednesday’s game a bit shorthanded as primary backup point guard, Michael Carter-Williams, missed the first of what is expected to be a four-to-six week stretch of games due to an injured knee and wrist. The Bulls were also without the services of their best long range shooter, Doug McDermott, who was forced to sit down thanks to getting bopped in the head and experiencing concussion symptoms earlier in the week. Fortunately McDermott looks to be fully recovered and is expected to play tonight against the Knicks.

New York, led by 11-time All-Star, Carmelo Anthony (21 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.5 apg), second-year forward Kristaps Porzingis (14.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg), and former Bulls Derrick Rose (16.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.5 apg) and Joakim Noah (2.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 5.5 apg), has had a bumpy start, dropping three-of-four games on the year, including two straight double-digit losses. On the season, New York has allowed every opponent to score at least 102 points, which should be sweet music to the Bulls, who twice already have posted 118 points, and come in averaging 110.3 points (5th in the NBA) overall.

A major reason for the Bulls getting off to a strong start has been the team’s ability to dominate the glass at both ends of the floor, and its willingness to play an unselfish game. Through four games, Chicago holds an impressive 209-153 rebounding edge. They have been especially effective on the offensive glass, leading the league with 14.8 caroms. In total, they have out-rebounded foes by an average of 14 a night, and have also outscored them in second-chance points, 70-39, ranking No. 3 in the league with 17.5 per game. As for sharing the ball, Chicago comes into tonight dishing 26.5 assists (5th in the NBA).

Defensively this evening and for every game going forward, Chicago needs to be aggressive and keep the lines of communication between one another open and free-flowing. Simply put, the Bulls have to hit the hardwood in a scrappy mood and not allow the Knicks any easy scoring opportunities. Chicago must step up its defensive pressure along the arc tonight, especially whenever Anthony or Porzingis are behind the line. In Wednesday’s loss to Boston, the Bulls failed to run shooters off the arc, and thus the Cs made them pay, hitting 14-of-32 attempts. New York probably won’t launch that many treys, but if Anthony and Porzingis are left alone, they won’t be bashful, and if either one or both get hot, watch out.

Offensively, the Bulls have consistently done a good job of keeping the ball on the move, jumping from player-to-player, and from side-to-side. Generally, they’ve established a fun and exciting pace of play, constantly driving the ball up the floor, making quick decisions in half-court sets, and relentlessly attacking the rim.

Tonight’s game should be an entertaining and high-scoring contest. If the Bulls come out focused and determined, continuing to out-hustle and outwork anyone that stands in their way, they should come away with another victory.