Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Rockets - Preseason (12.11.20)

The Chicago Bulls tip off the shortened 2020-21 NBA season with four preseason games beginning tonight against the Houston Rockets. The two teams will meet again Sunday evening (7:00 PM CT / CSN Chicago / WSCR-AM 670), also at the United Center. The Bulls then travel to Oklahoma City for a pair of preseason games next Wednesday and Friday against the Thunder.

Chicago's extended off-season (it's been nine months since the team last played a game) saw major changes to the leadership of the basketball operations side of the organization. Artūras Karnišovas was brought in from the Denver Nuggets to lead the team as its Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations. Karnišovas then hired Marc Eversley away from the Philadelphia 76ers to be the Bulls' new General Manager, and together, they signed former Oklahoma City Thunder Head Coach, Billy Donovan, to direct the team from the sidelines.

The Bulls return much of the same roster from last season, but with a new head coach and assistant staff, there's a great deal of hope going into this year. Key for Chicago will be the overall health of the squad, as well as the growth and progress of core players Zach LaVine, Coby White, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.

Chicago's top draft pick, Patrick Williams, also makes his professional debut this evening. So far in camp, the 6'8" forward out of Florida State has been very impressive on both sides of the ball. Williams' defensive versatility, as well as his ability to run the floor and finish at the rim should pump up the excitement level of Bulls fans on a nightly basis.

Much like the Bulls, Houston hits the hardwood after making some big changes in the off-season. Mike D'Antoni is no longer the Rockets head coach, and All-Star guard, Russell Westbrook, is busy house hunting these days in Washington, DC after being traded to the Wizards earlier this month in exchange for fellow point guard, John Wall.

D'Antoni's contract expired at the end of last season and the two sides decided to go separate ways. In his place is first year head coach Stephen Silas, who spent the last two seasons as a top assistant with the Dallas Mavericks, and in total has been coaching in the league for a little over 19 years. The Rockets should have a new offensive system under Silas, one likely to be a little more conventional rather than D'Antoni's ceaseless bombardment from behind the 3-point arc.

Tonight, also marks the return of John Wall to action, as the talented, lightning-quick All-Star playmaker has been sidelined for almost two seasons due to injuries. Getting Wall comfortable and back up to speed will be a top priority for Houston.

The face of the Rockets franchise, James Harden, will not take the floor tonight and is unlikely to do so on Sunday. Harden was late reporting to training camp and must first pass strict NBA COVID-19 safety protocols before he is allowed to practice and play.

Another important player this season for Houston who is also returning to action is free agent signee DeMarcus Cousins, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, and a good chunk of the year before with a torn Achilles'. Prior to his injuries, Cousins was a prolific scorer and rebounder with the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans.