Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Trail Blazers (12.05.16)

Tonight the Portland Trail Blazers (11-10) trek into the United Center in search of a little revenge against the Chicago Bulls (11-8) to close out the season series. Chicago stampeded through Rip City, 113-88, three weeks ago. All five Bulls starters scored in double figures that night, led by Jimmy Butler’s 27 points and 12 rebounds. Robin Lopez (13 points/11 rebounds) and Taj Gibson (12 points/11 rebounds) also posted double-doubles, as Chicago went on to pull down a franchise record 67 rebounds (in a regulation game), while holding the Blazers to 35.8% shooting overall. Damian Lillard led Portland in scoring (19 points), while Blazer big men, Mason Plumlee (9 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists) and Ed Davis (9 points, 9 rebounds), also provided punch.

Heading into this evening’s contest the Blazers rank 4th in the NBA in scoring at 110.2 points per game, while the Bulls have held opponents to an average of 99.6, good for 9th. The Blazers carry a two-game winning streak to town while the Bulls look to bounce back after a disappointing loss in Dallas Saturday night. Tonight also marks Chicago’s third game over a four-night stretch. They’ll immediately fly to Motown after this evening’s game to face the Pistons, Tuesday.

So far the Bulls have flourished whenever they get out of the blocks fast. Thus in order to come out on top this evening, they will have to show up with a gritty attitude from the start and never slow down.

A primary key will be Chicago’s ability to once again take command of the boards. The Bulls currently rank 2nd rebounding with an average of 48.6 per game, while Portland is near the bottom (21st) at 42.7. Chicago is particularly strong on the offensive glass, with an NBA-best 13.8 mark. Overall, they are outrebounding foes by an impressive 5.3 per game, and outscoring them in second-chance points, 312-237.

Offensively, Chicago is at its best when they relentlessly push the ball up the floor and keep it jumping it from player-to-player and from side-to-side. To truly click, the ball must skip freely and not get stuck in anyone’s hands for very long. Every Bull needs to stay active and fully engaged.

Without a doubt, Chicago has been most effective when they go on the attack and force the opposition to foul. As a team, they have done a first-rate job of getting to the line, outscoring opponents at the charity stripe, 368-262.

In short, the Bulls’ primary task is to come out fast and strong at both ends of the floor and never slow down. From the opening tip to the final buzzer, they must play with a dogged attitude. They need to wrestle control of the boards right away and not allow Portland extra opportunities to run out on the break for easy scores. They also must aggressively defend the three-point arc, as Portland ranks 8th in the league in long distance marksmanship (36.4%). Blazers starting shooting guard, CJ McCollum (21.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg and 3.7 apg), is especially deadly from far way, knocking down 52-of-121 (.430) treys.