Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Magic (12.20.17)

Tonight the Chicago Bulls welcome the Orlando Magic to the United Center for the first time this season. The two met a little more than month ago in Orlando where Chicago stampeded to an impressive 105-83 victory. Collectively, the Bulls hit 40-of-85 from the field (47.1%) and a blistering 14-of-29 (48.3%) from downtown that night while holding the Magic to 40.7% shooting (35-86) and a paltry 28.6% from long distance (10-35).

The game started out as a tight affair with the Magic posting a 45-44 lead at the half. However, Chicago caught fire in the third quarter and never cooled off, outscoring Orlando 61-38 the rest of the way to claim its first road win of the year. Seven different players notched double figures in scoring for the Bulls, led by Justin Holiday’s 19 and David Nwaba’s 16 while center Robin Lopez recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Chicago also out-rebounded Orlando, 48-38, and forced 16 turnovers. Evan Fournier led the Magic with a game-high 21 points.

The Bulls and Orlando are heading in opposite directions of late, as Chicago hits the hardwood fairly healthy, missing only Zach LaVine (ACL rehab) and come into tonight riding a six-game winning streak, whereas the Magic are a battered and bruised bunch that has lost five straight and six of their last seven games. Earlier this morning they announced Arron Afflalo (back spasms) and the aforementioned Fournier (sprained right ankle) are questionable to play tonight while Aaron Gordon (strained right calf) and Terrence Ross (right knee) are most definitely out of action. When healthy, all but Afflalo are starters.

Chicago earned its sixth-straight victory Monday against Philadelphia, 117-115. Besides the 76ers, the Bulls have also defeated Charlotte in OT, New York, Boston, Utah and Milwaukee during this hot streak.

Offensively the Bulls have been hitting on all cylinders, as they’ve scored at least 100 points each game, whereas earlier this season they hit the century mark only eight times in 23.

Just as they have done in each of the last six contests, the Bulls will need to establish themselves as the aggressor from the opening tip tonight and never back off. Defensively, they must keep the lines of communication open and sport a scrappy and stubborn personality by hustling after every rebound and loose ball to deny Orlando any chance to slip into a comfortable rhythm.

A primary key for the Bulls is to take control of the paint and the boards at both ends of the court. The team’s primary ballhandlers, Kris Dunn, Jerian Grant, David Nwaba, Justin Holiday and Denzel Valentine, need to doggedly go on the attack by regularly taking the action to the basket. Persistently driving to the cup will eventually force Orlando’s defense to overreact, breakdown and foul, which should then send the Bulls to free throw line for a number of easy scoring opportunities.

To that end, offensively Chicago must also place a couple of shooters evenly along the 3-point arc to draw the defense out to the perimeter and away from the basket. It is also vital the Bulls get everyone involved by sharing the ball with one another. If Orlando’s defense starts to abandon the perimeter and slides towards the basket, Dunn, Grant, Nwaba, Holiday and Valentine will need to adjust and look to pass the ball to an open sniper on the arc for an uncontested, open look at the rim.

By and large, the Bulls would like to attempt between 85-to-90 shots a game, with 30-or-more coming from beyond the 3-point arc. In order to achieve those marks the team must play at a fast pace. They have to quickly move the ball up the court and make it hop from player-to-player, and from one side of the floor to the other. The most effective way to generate uncontested shots is to force the defense to continually scramble and expend energy.

In short, the Bulls’ primary task is to aggressively hit the floor right from the start and never let up. To make it easier for themselves to score, Chicago must share the ball and get everyone is involved. Defensively they must also sport a hardnosed mindset, and commit to outhustling Orlando from the opening seconds of the game until the final buzzer.