For the second time this season the Chicago Bulls host the Brooklyn Nets at the United Center, but on this occasion it's a Sunday afternoon matinee.
In the first contest Brooklyn held off a hard-charging Chicago squad to win 96-93 to extend a then-season high seven-game winning streak. Spencer Dinwiddie stormed off the bench to score a game-high 27 points to lead the way. Chicago's Kris Dunn led the Bulls with 24 points while Bobby Portis added 16 points and 11 rebounds before having to leave early with a badly sprained ankle that has kept him out of action ever since. However, there could be some good news on the Portis front as the team announced Friday that there's a good chance he could return today after missing the Bulls' last seven games.
This afternoon's contest is the middle match of a three-game road trek for Brooklyn as they'll immediately fly to Boston afterwards to battle the Celtics tomorrow. As for Chicago, today ends a three-game homestand as they tip-off a two-week West Coast road swing in Portland on Wednesday. The Bulls won't return to the UC until January 19th to face the Miami Heat in what will likely be Dwyane Wade's final Windy City appearance as an NBA player.
Prior to their Friday game against Memphis, the Nets had won 10 of 13. The team's turnaround is primarily due to fifth year point guard D'Angelo Russell's breakout season, as the former Ohio State All-American comes in averaging 18 points and 6.3 assists in 29.4 minutes, while backcourt mate Joe Harris posts 13.6 points while shooting a blistering 48.9% from behind the 3-point arc.
Brooklyn's second-year, 20-year old starting center, Jarrett Allen, has also been an impact player. The 6'11 former Texas Longhorn ranks 11th in the league in shooting (.579) and 20th in blocks (1.4). So far he's posted a team-high 13 double-doubles, which is also second-most in the league for a player 20-and-under. Overall Allen's contributing a solid 11.6 points and 8.2 rebounds in 27 minutes a night.
Another key player is sixth man Spencer Dinwiddie, who had a brief stay in Chicago with the G League Windy City Bulls in 2016. The 6'6” combo guard averages 17.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 28.8 minutes.
Dinwiddie is the embodiment of grit. In college he suffered a torn ACL and later began his NBA career as an end-of-the-bench, practice scrub with Detroit before the Bulls acquired him via trade prior to the start of the 2016-17 season. At the end of training camp in late October Chicago opted to officially release Dinwiddie, but quickly re-signed him to play for their G League team, where he immediately caught fire and opened eyes all throughout the league. It didn't take long before the Nets decided to take a chance and inked him to an NBA contract.
For the Bulls to give themselves a shot of coming out on top this afternoon they're going to need to keep all five players on the floor involved in the action at both ends of the court.
Offensively they cannot allow their gameplan to become a succession of ball-stopping, one-on-one battles. The ball needs to freely skip from player-to-player and from side-to-side to force the Nets' defense to expend energy and open driving lanes and free looks at the rim. Whenever those opportunities present themselves the Bulls need to then aggressively attack the rim and make their way to the free throw line.
Chicago also has to be smart with the ball by limiting turnovers. The Bulls have to avoid risky passes that can be picked-off and fire up the Nets' already potent offense by allowing them speed up the pace of the game.
Another important defensive factor will be limiting Brooklyn's opportunities at the 3-point arc.
Coming into the weekend the Nets rank 7th in 3-point attempts (33.8 per game), and 4th in makes (12.3). The first option they usually look to employ offensively is to fire away from behind the arc. The Bulls simply cannot allow them to do so without consistently putting a hand in the face of every Brooklyn sniper. In fact, Chicago must put forth a concerted effort to run them off the arc at every opportunity. Russell (6.7 3FGA / 35.2%), Dinwiddie (5.5 3FGA / 37.7%) and Harris (5.1 3FGA / 48.9%) are their primary deep threats. If the Bulls are slow to react and defend the bend, it will likely turn out to be a bad day for the home team.