Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Lakers (11.21.17)

Tonight the Bulls are in Los Angeles to take on the Lakers at Staples Center in the first of two get-togethers this season. LA is looking to build upon an impressive 127-109 home victory over Denver Sunday evening, while the Bulls aim to get back on track after falling on the road Sunday to Phoenix, 113-105. Tonight's contest is also Chicago's second of a four-game West Coast swing during Thanksgiving week. After tonight the Bulls head to Utah to meet the Jazz tomorrow, and close out the trip Friday against the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors.

Although the Bulls come into this evening with a record of 3-11, the team's future looks bright. Rookie Lauri Markkanen is currently the only first-year player leading his team in both scoring (15.6) and rebounding (8.0). The 7'0" Finn set career highs with 26 points and a team-high 13 rebounds at Phoenix the other night, and has scored at least 12 points in 13 of Chicago's 14 games played. The only contest Markkanen failed to notch double-digits occurred on November 11 at San Antonio when he scored 6 points in 15 first half minutes before being forced to leave the game with a sprained ankle. Other than that the 20-year forward has been nothing short of spectacular as he's already posted four double-doubles.

Second-year point guard Kris Dunn is also opening eyes, especially of late, as the 6'4", 23-year old playmaker has averaged 19.5 points on 56.3% shooting to go along with 6.5 assists and 2.5 steals coming off the bench for 26.7 minutes over the team's last two games. For the most part tonight he'll likely matchup against Lakers lead guard, Lonzo Ball, who was the No. 2 overall pick in last June's NBA Draft. Ball, a 6'6", 20-year old out of UCLA has started every game and has already notched two triple-doubles. The other night against Denver, Ball led LA to victory by contributing 11 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and 11 assists.

Defensively, Chicago is in for a major challenge. Although the Lakers rank in the middle of the league in scoring (105.6), they lead the NBA in points in the paint (56.2). In the loss to the Suns the other night, Chicago allowed a whopping 64 points down low while mustering just 40 of their own. Of LA's 127 points against Denver, 70 came from the paint. So clearly a major factor will be how effective Chicago is at keeping LA away from the basket, as overall 53.3% of the Lakers scoring so far this season has come from close range.

Offensively, the Bulls would like to put up between 85 to 90 shots a game, with at least 30 coming from beyond the 3-point arc. Ideally, and much like the Lakers, the vast majority of Chicago's attempts should come from inside the arc, hopefully no more than 17-feet away from the rim. To achieve such a goal it is imperative the Bulls do a good job of sharing the ball, keeping it hopping from player-to-player and from one side of the court to the other. In order to get a decent amount of open looks at the rim the Bulls must force the defense to constantly shift. They can't allow the Lakers the luxury of being able to repeatedly set-up on defense and shut-off driving lanes to the rim. Freely sharing the ball also keeps everyone on offense involved in the action. The Bulls are at their most effective when the ball finds its way into each player's hands while everyone constantly darts in-and-out of the paint and around the arc. To that end Chicago's primary ballhandlers, Kris Dunn, Jerian Grant and also Antonio Blakeney and Justin Holiday, will need to come into tonight's game with an aggressive mindset and endlessly look for openings to drive the ball deep into the paint, establishing an eagerness to take the action directly to the rim. As a team, the Bulls will also need to collectively crash the boards hard at both ends of the floor, and if they come up short in corralling a missed shot or a loose ball, never fail to hustle back on defense to deny the Lakers the opportunity to ramp up their attack in transition.

In order to have a chance of coming out on top, the Bulls have to come out every game fast and strong. At no time can they afford to relax or slow the pace of the game. From the opening tip to the final horn Chicago must play with a chip on its shoulder and commit to outwork and outhustle every opponent.