Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Timberwolves (02.24.21)

The Bulls return home to meet the Minnesota Timberwolves for the first time this season. Newly minted NBA All-Star Zach LaVine leads Chicago's attack, ranking 6th in the league in scoring with an average of 28.6 points per game.

The Bulls hit the floor this evening looking to stay on a roll, as they've won two in row and four of their last five. Monday night in Houston, Chicago grounded the Rockets, 120-100, sweeping the season series for the first time since the 2015-16 season. The 20-point victory was also the Bulls' largest against the Rockets in Houston since a 33-point Bulls win in 1972.

Playmaker Coby White led Chicago with a game-high 24 points, followed by LaVine with 21, Wendell Carter Jr. with 18 points and 13 rebounds, and veteran Thaddeus Young with 17 off the bench.

The Bulls got off to a hot start but backed off the throttle too early, allowing Houston to catch up and even take the lead briefly in the second quarter. But Chicago was able to ramp it up again, closing the half with a push to lead 54-48 at halftime. When the teams returned from their locker rooms to begin the third quarter, the Bulls stampeded out of the gates, outscoring the Rockets 46-26 to hold a commanding 100-74 lead going into the final quarter. LaVine scored 14 of his 21 points in the third to lead the charge. Chicago went on runs of 15-4 and 12-0 during the stanza, dousing any hope for the Rockets to ignite.

Former Bulls wingman, David Nwaba, led Houston with 22 points off the bench, but it wasn't near enough to slow Chicago's roll, as the loss was the Rockets' eighth straight.

For the Timberwolves, tonight is the second of a back-to-back set of games, as they spent a rough night in Milwaukee yesterday, losing to the Bucks, 139-112. The loss was Minnesota's fifth straight and ninth in their last 10 games as their record fell to an NBA-worst 7-25. The game also marked the debut of new head coach, Chris Finch, who took over the reins Monday after the Timberwolves dismissed Ryan Saunders over the weekend. Finch had been an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Malik Beasley each scored 26 points for the Timberwolves. Towns also had eight rebounds and a career-high 11 assists.

Together, they helped Minnesota stay competitive early, but Milwaukee went on a 21-3 run that began late in the second quarter and continued into the third period, turning a 62-59 edge into an 83-62 advantage, never to look back.

On a positive note, Minnesota did record its highest first-quarter point total of the season, though they still trailed 38-36 at the end of the period. The Timberwolves were shooting over 60% from the field with just over four minutes left in the opening half but cooled off dramatically the rest of the way, shooting 34.7% (17 of 49) in the second half.

As has been stated many times in the past, a central goal every game for the Bulls is to be aggressive right from the start. Chicago is at its best when they look to run downhill and quickly establish a speedy pace to the game. When the Bulls collectively go after every rebound and loose ball, and streak down the floor in transition, good things happen.

For their offense to run efficiently, the ball must jump from player-to-player. Quick, decisive passing will force the defense to overreact, and fall apart. Plus, quick passing will free up driving lanes to the rim and generate uncluttered looks for shooters stationed outside and all around the 3-point arc.

The Bulls cannot allow their offense to slow down or transform into an isolation attack where just one player attempts to go one-on-one. Continuous ball and player movement, in and out of the paint and all around the arc, is vital to creating an effective offensive tempo. Yet, having said that, it is also vital the Bulls keep turnovers under control by eliminating sloppy passing and ballhandling. Too many turnovers will lead to momentum swings, and the objective is to bury opponents early and continue to smother them until the final horn blares.

In order to come out on top tonight Chicago will need to command the boards. They have to hit the glass hard at both ends of the floor, and limit second-chance scoring opportunities for the Timberwolves.

Minnesota is 25th in the league in scoring offense with 107.7 points per game. The Timberwolves also stand 23rd in rebounding, pulling down 43.1 boards a contest while they are 12th in assists by handing out 25.3 dimes a game. Minnesota has really struggled on the defensive end of the floor as they're 25th in scoring defense, allowing 115.6 points per game.

Karl-Anthony Towns leads the team in scoring at 22.3 points while also pulling down 10.9 rebounds and handing out 4.1 assists a night. He's played just 12 of the team's 32 games due to a wrist injury and then testing positive for COVID-19.

Malik Beasley puts up 20.4 points a night and first overall pick Anthony Edwards (14.1 points), Jaylen Nowell (8.8 points) and Naz Reid (11.9 points, five rebounds) are reliable scoring options. The Timberwolves will be a bit shorthanded tonight as they're missing two key guards in D'Angelo Russell (left knee surgery) and Jarret Culver (left ankle sprain).

If Chicago shows up focused, determined, and comes out aggressive from the jump, there's absolutely no reason they can't come away with their third straight victory, and fifth in their last six.