Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Knicks (11.12.19)

The Bulls are back in action and looking for revenge at the United Center this evening in a rematch against the New York Knicks. The two first met in Gotham City on October 28th where former Bulls first round pick (2015) Bobby Portis came off New York's bench and caught fire late to lead the Knicks to a 105-98 victory. It was New York's first win on the new season, as the loss dropped the Bulls to 1-3.

New York opened the night ice cold, missing 13 of its first 15 shots, quickly falling behind and trailing Chicago 33-15 after one quarter. The Bulls continued to play steady, eventually stretching its lead out to 18-points halfway through the third, but that's when the wheels first began to wobble and eventually fell off, as the Knicks closed fast and hard with a 15-0 run to end up on top at the end of the night. Portis finished with a career-best 28 points to go along with 11 rebounds in 30 minutes off the pine. Knicks rookie RJ Barrett also added 19 points and 15 rebounds.

The Bulls were led by Zach LaVine's team-best 21 points, while Wendell Carter Jr. posted a double/double of 20 and 10 rebounds, followed closely by Lauri Markkanen's 18 and six.

Besides hoping to exact some payback this evening, Chicago comes in looking to bounce back from another disappointing loss that took place Saturday at the UC to the Houston Rockets, 117-94.

Once again, the Bulls got off to a fast start, leading 27-20 after the opening quarter. However, the Rockets were able to pick themselves up by launching their way to a 24-7 run halfway through the second to stake a 46-38 lead with four minutes left in the opening half. Chicago, however, was able to close to within 50-49 by halftime after LaVine knocked down a three before the buzzer. But Houston quickly reclaimed control with a second impressive run (30-9) behind a blistering attack from behind the arc, shooting 7-of-14 from downtown to lead 86-67 after three stanzas. From that moment on the Bulls couldn't get any closer than 14 before ultimately falling, 117-94.

As for tonight's contest, Chicago will have to do a far better job of staying focused for all 48 minutes of the game. Up to this point the Bulls have largely been able to get into an early groove offensively, running out to comfortable double-digit leads. Yet, somewhere along the way they lose their way and fade down the stretch. If they're going to end up as the last team standing at the end of tonight the Bulls are going to need to get locked in early and stay focused and poised until the final buzzer.

The Knicks, who have lost eight of 10, come into tonight 29th in the league in scoring (99.2), and dead last in shooting (41.7%). The Bulls, who have dropped seven of 10, aren't all that much better, tied for 24th in scoring (105.4) and tied for 27th in shooting (42.8%).

Defensively Chicago is going to need to keep an eye on forward RJ Barrett, the No. 3 overall pick in last June's draft, who is second on the Knicks in scoring (15.5). Veteran Marcus Morris leads New York at 18.1 points, while free-agent pickup Julius Randle also posts 15.5 points and leads the team on the boards with 10 per night.

Collectively, the Bulls need to trust one another on defense, and never fail to rotate and/or jump out to guard an open shooter on the arc when needed. They're going to have to turn up the pressure by denying New York opportunities to skip the ball in search of open teammates cutting through the paint. Chicago needs to make the Knicks work hard for every possession they get, and they must also be willing to go to battle on the glass after every rebound and fight for every loose ball.

Offensively, the Bulls are effective when they come out of the gates aggressive and establish a fast pace right away. They must freely share the ball with one another, getting everyone involved in the action. To produce scoring chances, the Bulls can't afford to stand and watch. They need to constantly be on the move and make the extra pass to uncover open paths to the hoop and make their way to the free throw line, and frankly convert from the stripe far more often than they have so far this year.