Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Lakers (01.26.18)

Tonight the Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers close out their season series at the United Center. In the first contest at Staples Center a couple of days before Thanksgiving, Chicago stampeded out of the gates and led by as many as 19 before settling for a comfortable 14-point lead at the half. Nevertheless, LA caught fire in the third and carried it over throughout the fourth quarter, outscoring the Bulls 61-38 during that stretch to come away with a 103-94 victory.

Rookie Kyle Kuza logged 40 minutes to pace the Lakers with a game-high 22 points, while veteran sniper Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 11 of his 21 on the night during the game’s final 12 minutes. Second-year guard Denzel Valentine led Chicago’s attack with 17 points, backed up by rookie Antonio Blakeney’s 15. Fellow first-year player, Lauri Markkanen, chipped in 13 points and 14 rebounds.

This evening the Bulls are in for a tough defensive challenge. Overall, the Lakers rank 10th in scoring at 106.1 points per game — impressive, but not imposing. However, where the rubber meets the road is the fact they are also the NBA’s No. 1 team at scoring in the paint, averaging 53.4 per from close range. So far this season they have posted 60+ points in the paint 13 times, including a franchise record 82 on New Year’s Eve when they visited Houston.

In contrast, Chicago ranks 20th in scoring (103.2), and 27th (41.4) at lighting up the scoreboard down low. Understandably, a major factor then in tonight’s outcome will be just how effective the Bulls are at taking command of the paint and forcing LA out of its comfort zone.

Offensively, the Bulls would like to launch anywhere between 85-to-90 shots overall, with at least 30 coming from beyond the 3-point arc. To give themselves a chance of achieving these objectives, Chicago has to make the ball hop from player-to-player and from one side of the court to the other. To generate open looks at the basket the Bulls have to force LA’s defense to continually shift. They can’t allow the Lakers time to set-up and clog driving lanes to the rim. Freely sharing the ball also gets everyone involved in the action. The Bulls are at their most effective when the ball finds its way into every player’s hands. To that end they’ll need to show up with an aggressive mindset and doggedly take advantage of every opportunity to drive the ball deep into the paint. Together, Chicago also needs to crash the boards at both ends of the floor, and if they fail to corral a missed shot or scoop-up a loose ball, they can’t mentally check-out or forget to get back defensively and deny LA opportunities to ramp up its attack.

All-in-all, Chicago needs to get hardnosed contribution from its entire roster. The Bulls best bet is to take charge right away by establishing a fast, aggressive pace from the opening tip. Collectively, they have to surpass LA’s energy and effort, going all-out after every loose ball and rebound. They also must look to get out on the break as often as possible in the hopes of posting easy scores.

The Bulls are at their best when they consistently push the ball up the floor and make sure everyone is involved in what’s going on. They have to spread the floor while at the same time keep an eye out for opportunities to attack the rim.

In short, at no time can the Bulls afford to ease off or slow things down. From the opening tip until the final horn they have to commit to outworking and outhustling the Lakers in every way possible.

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