Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Suns (11.28.17)
Tonight the Bulls and the Phoenix Suns meet for the second and final time. A little less than 10 days ago Chicago, despite rookie Lauri Markkanen’s stellar effort (26 points, 13 rebounds) came up short, 113-105, down in the Valley of the Sun. Veteran forward TJ Warren led the way for Phoenix with a game-high 27 points, while guards Devin Booker and Mike James added 15 apiece. Of note, 8 of James’ points came in during the final 10 minutes to seal the victory. As a team, Phoenix played a very unselfish game, handing out a season-high 32 assists on 45 made baskets.
Besides Markkanen’s great play, Chicago’s Kris Dunn came off the bench hot in putting up 17 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists to go along with 2 steals while starting center Robin Lopez chipped in 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, albeit in a losing cause.
Much like Chicago, the Suns’ roster has undergone a major makeover of late with the additions of a number of young and highly athletic players. Phoenix’s top offensive threats are the 21-year old Booker who is averaging 22.5 points a game, and the 24-year old Warren, who contributes on average 18.6 points and 5.9 rebounds.
For the Bulls to give themselves a chance of coming out on top this evening they have to hit the court running hard at both ends of the floor. Both teams would like to establish a fast pace right from the start. The Suns launch the most shot attempts in the league with a mark of 89.8 overall while the Bulls rank 5th at 87.9 per game. Where the two differ is Chicago looks to fire away from downtown more often (31.4 3FGA) while the Suns are more conservative (25.9), focusing their attack primarily inside the arc.
The last time these two met Chicago started strong, leading 37-30 after the opening quarter. The Bulls looked to be in control, holding Phoenix to only two fast-break points in the opening stanza, and the Suns didn’t get another transition score until halfway through the second, but that’s when the floodgates opened. Phoenix found another gear in amping up its effort, snaring just about every 50/50 ball and defensive rebound. By halftime the Suns had posted a total of 10 points in transition, and by the end of the game they had 19 to Chicago’s 12.
To that end it is gut-check time for the Bulls, as Chicago comes in having lost 5 in a row and 11 of their last 12 games. To get back on track the Bulls will need to open up the floor offensively in order to force Phoenix’s defense to cover a lot of ground. The Bulls primary ballhandlers, Kris Dunn, Jerian Grant and even Antonio Blakeney, will also need to sport an aggressive mindset, constantly eying opportunities to either drive the ball deep into the paint or unselfishly swing the ball around from player-to-player in order to find an open man with a good look at the rim. As a team, the Bulls also have to collectively crash the boards hard at both ends of the floor, and if they fail to corral a missed shot or snag a loose ball, be willing to race back defensively to deny Phoenix easy scores on the break.
Right from the opening tip the Bulls have to establish a fast pace, yet they also must stay under control by keeping turnovers to a minimum while getting everyone involved in the action. At no time can they allow themselves to lose confidence or hang their heads. At a minimum the Bulls must match Phoenix’s energy, but in truth they really need to be the aggressors in how the game is going to unfold and deny Phoenix any opportunity to dictate terms.
Another vital task for Chicago every game is to take command of the boards and commit to governing the paint. A costly byproduct of bad transition defense and lost confidence is points in the paint. Last time out the Suns scored 10 of their first 14 points near the rim. By the end of the night Phoenix posted a whopping 64 points in the paint to Chicago’s 40.
In order for Chicago to get good looks at the basket the ball has to hop from player-to-player with everyone involved in the action. The Bulls have to come into every game sporting a hardnosed, determined mindset, and collectively pledge to outwork and outhustle each opponent in every way imaginable. Effort isn’t necessarily a byproduct of talent, but rather it’s a result of work ethic and a willingness to give everything you can, every time out.