Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Suns (11.19.17)
Tonight the Bulls embark on their annual Western Conference Thanksgiving trek with the first stop in Phoenix to take on the Suns. Chicago then heads to Los Angeles to battle the Lakers Tuesday, followed by one night stand in Salt Lake City Wednesday against the Utah Jazz. The trip concludes with a visit to Golden State to meet the defending World Champion Warriors Friday night.
Much like the Bulls this season, Phoenix's roster has undergone a transformation the past couple of years with a major influx of highly athletic players, most of whom lack a great deal of NBA experience. The Suns top offensive threats are 21-year old guard Devin Booker who is averaging around 23 points a game, and 24-year old small forward TJ Warren, who came into the weekend averaging 18.4 points and 5.8 rebounds. The Suns also recently traded for center Greg Monroe, who made his Phoenix debut the other night against Houston, contributing 20 points and 11 rebounds in a fairly ugly 142-116 loss to the Rockets.
Unlike the Bulls this season, Phoenix hasn't had a lot of trouble scoring the ball, in that as of this writing they rank 13th in the league at 106.7 points a game, whereas the Bulls are last at 92.4. However, defensively the two find themselves at the opposite end of the spectrum with the Suns surrendering a league-worst 116.8 points while Chicago sits 8th in allowing just 102.9.
For the Bulls to get off on the right foot this evening they'll need to hit the hardwood inspired at both ends of the floor. Both teams are likely to try to establish a fast pace by putting up a lot of shots. Phoenix launches the second-most attempts in the league with a mark of 88.9 while the Bulls are not too far behind (9th) at 85.8 per game. Where the two differ is Chicago looks to fire away more often from downtown (10th, 30.8) while the Suns are a bit more conservative (22nd, 26.0), directing their attack generally inside the arc.
Since both teams would like tonight's contest to become a track meet, turnovers and rebounding are going to be key factors. Both the Bulls and Suns have had trouble holding onto the ball, with Chicago committing 16.0 turnovers a game with the Suns mishandling it 16.3 times. However both are fairly strong when it comes to cleaning the glass, with Phoenix ranking 6th by pulling down 46.3 rebounds a game and the Bulls 9th at 45.1.
To that end Chicago will need to open up the floor offensively in order to force Phoenix's defense to cover a lot of ground. Chicago's primary ballhandlers, Kris Dunn, Jerian Grant and Antonio Blakeney, will also need to establish an aggressive mindset and continuously eye opportunities to drive the ball deep into the paint, demonstrating a willingness to take the action directly to the rim. As a team, the Bulls will also have to communally crash the boards at both ends of the floor, and if they fail to corral a missed shot or a loose ball, sprint back on defense to deny the Suns a chance to run the break.
From the opening tip until the final buzzer Chicago must establish a fast pace yet at the same time, stay under control. At no time can they afford to lose confidence or hang their heads. A vital task every game is to wrestle command of the boards and commit to taking advantage of every opportunity to get into transition to score easy baskets.
In order for the Bulls to get good looks at the basket the ball also has to hop from player-to-player with everyone getting involved in the action. The Bulls have to come into every game with a hardnosed, determined attitude, and collectively pledge to always outwork and outhustle opponents in every way.