Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Pacers (03.05.19)
Tonight the Chicago Bulls (18-46) and the Indiana Pacers (41-23) complete their regular season series at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the heart of Hoosier State. Indy came out on top in all three of the earlier matchups, but just by single digits every time. If they can complete the sweep this evening, it'll be the first time Chicago would have been whitewashed by their longtime division rivals since 2001-02.
The Bulls come in looking to bounce back after dropping the back half of a home and home set against the Atlanta Hawks Sunday afternoon at the United Center, 123-118. The Pacers also fell at home their last time out, 117-112, to the Orlando Magic on Saturday. It was Indy's third loss in its last four games. Since the All-Star break, they have allowed all six opponents to surpass 100 points, going 3-3.
Chicago has also allowed every opponent since the break to hit the century mark, but they're 4-2. In fact, in their last 10 games, the Bulls are the NBA's most prolific scoring team, averaging 120.8 points in going 6-4.
Second year forward Lauri Markkanen has really come into his own during this time, averaging 25 points and 12.9 rebounds while shooting 45.2% from the floor, while Zach LaVine has been equally blistering, to the tune of 25.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists while shooting 51.6% from the field and 47.3% from deep.
Forward Otto Porter Jr., who arrived from Washington the night before the league trade deadline last month, has also been a key contributor for the Bulls as has meshed perfectly with his new running mates, averaging 19.8 points and 5.9 rebounds, hitting 51.8% of his shots overall, and 52.2% from behind the arc. Porter didn't play Sunday, but he should be good to go tonight. With him in the lineup, the Bulls have gone 6-2.
Indiana is currently the 3rd seed in the East behind Milwaukee and Toronto. A good number of teams might have completely caved after losing their All-Star to a season-ending injury, but so far this team has not.
Victor Oladipo got off to another great start, averaging 18.8 points, 5.2 assists and 1.7 steals, but in late January he suffered a ruptured quad tendon after 36 games. Since then the Pacers have hung in there, going 8-9, but the arrow is beginning to point up again, winning six of their last 10, averaging 110.6 points while shooting an NBA-best 50.2% from the field. Veteran forward Bojan Bogdanovic has picked up the team's scoring load, chipping in 23.3 points a night while shooting 53.4% overall and 38.2% from behind the arc. However, he isn't the only one putting up a fight as five other Hoosiers are contributing better than 11 points a game, including recent signee Wesley Mathews, who is chipping in 14 a night over eight games.
In order for the Bulls to thwart Indiana's designs for a series sweep they're going to have to take a page out of the Golden State Warriors' playbook by keeping the ball on the move and making sure everyone on the floor is involved in the action. The ball has to freely skip from side-to-side and from player-to-player to force the Pacers defense to scramble and cover a lot of ground. To that end Chicago's playmakers, point guard Kris Dunn, LaVine, Markkanen as well as Porter Jr., and to an extent center Robin Lopez, must show up with a hardnosed mindset at both ends of the floor, proving from the start a desire and a will to go on the attack at every opportunity.
As a team, the Bulls would also do well to command of the boards and look to speed up the pace of the game by persistently getting out on the break as often as possible so that they can post easy scores before Indiana has time to set up on defense.
From the opening tip until the final buzzer, Chicago is going to need to outhustle the Pacers in every way imaginable.