Tonight the Chicago Bulls play host to the two-time defending NBA World Champion Golden State Warriors in the only matchup between the two teams to take place in the Windy City this year.
Both the Bulls and Warriors hit the hardwood coming off victories. Chicago won Saturday night on the road in Atlanta, 97-85, while the Dubs took down the Nets in Brooklyn yesterday, 120-114, behind the potent firepower of Steph Curry (35 points), Kevin Durant (34 points) and Klay Thompson (18 points).
After a brutal 29-point blowout loss in Charlotte Friday, Chicago righted itself 24 hours later with a much grittier effort against the Hawks. It definitely wasn't a pretty game by any stretch of the imagination, but every Bulls player found a way to contribute to the victory.
Defensively, the same Chicago team that allowed Charlotte to run off 45 points in the second quarter Friday surrendered 44 through halftime to Atlanta. For the game the Bulls held the Hawks to just 32.1 percent shooting from the floor and 30 percent from distance. They also harassed Atlanta into committing 22 turnovers. The Hawks' two leading scorers, Taurean Prince and rookie sensation Trae Young, were held well below their scoring averages, finishing with a combined 29 points on eight-of-26 shooting. Those two were also responsible for half of Atlanta's 22 turnovers.
Atlanta came into the night ranked 5th in the league in 3-point attempts per game (37.8), 2nd in makes (15.3) and 3rd in 3-point percentage (40.4). But thanks to better focus and a fiery effort Chicago limited them to just 12 made 3s overall, and only six after the opening stanza.
Once again Zach LaVine led the Bulls in scoring with a game-high 27 points while also grabbing 11 rebounds to post his first double-double of the season. LaVine, who drew countless double-teams, also slashed and dashed his way to the hoop enough times to stroll to the charity stripe for 10 free throw attempts, connecting on eight. Teammate Jabari Parker continued to come off the Bulls' bench and provide fireworks, notching 18 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal in 34 minutes of work. Ryan Arcidiacono also made his presence felt by going five-of-10 from the field (three-of-six from downtown) and handing out a game-high seven assists in 31 minutes of spit, fire and grit.
The Dubs victory in Brooklyn yesterday was the team's fourth straight and sixth in seven games this season. During their current four-game win streak they're averaging a whopping 128.8 points per game while giving up 109.8. Tonight's contest wraps up their first Eastern Conference road swing of the season after spending the weekend in New York, defeating both the Knicks and Nets and landing in Chicago this evening. After tonight they head back home to the Bay for a five-game homestand, the team's longest of the season.
Once again the Warriors are running wild over the league. They lead the NBA in scoring (120.7), shooting (51.9 percent) and assists (29) and are second in overall point differential (+11.8).
Defensively, the Bulls are definitely going to have to stay tied together and keep the lines of communication open and free flowing. Like they did the other night in Atlanta, they also have to really eyeball the 3-point arc and run shooters off the arc. Just about everyone on the Warriors, including the team's head coach and former Bulls fan favorite, Steve Kerr, can hit open jumpers from downtown. Steph Curry, who leads the league in scoring (33.9 per game) has been completely unconscious when it comes to firing away from behind the arc so far this season, launching 12.7 a game, hitting a ridiculous 6.6 for a 51.7 percent splash rate. Kevin Durant is close behind with an overall scoring average of 30.3 points, but is a little more tempered from far away, averaging 4.4 liftoffs with a 35.5 percent success level.
Offensively, the Bulls want to play fast and free, putting up between 85-to-90 shots overall, with at least 30 coming from beyond the 3-point arc. In order to achieve these objectives it is vital they willingly share the ball, making it hop from player-to-player and from side-to-side. To generate open looks at the basket they need to force opponents to scramble and cover a lot of ground. Sharing the ball also keeps everyone involved on offense and forces opponents to expend extra energy.
To that end the Bulls' primary ballhandlers have to show up to work with an aggressive mindset and be willing to relentlessly take the action to the rim and draw contact in order to get to the free throw line for easy scoring opportunities. As a team, Chicago is also going to need to crash the boards, and aggressively go after every missed shot and loose ball to speed up the pace of the game.
In order to come out on top at the end of the night the Bulls will need to come out of the gates fast and never lose faith or confidence. From the opening tip to the final buzzer they have to commit to outworking and outhustling the defending champs in every conceivable way.