Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Wizards (11.12.16)

Tonight the Chicago Bulls (5-4) and the Washington Wizards (2-6) meet in the first of four tip-offs this season. The contest will be Chicago’s last at the United Center until the end of the month (November 30 vs. Lakers) as the circus takes over the arena next week and runs through Thanksgiving. In the meantime, the Bulls will hit the road for six games, starting Tuesday in Portland and ending in Philadelphia on November 25th.

The Wizards are hoping to close out a back-to-back tonight on a positive note, but if Chicago is on its game, that could prove tough to do. Washington lost at home to LeBron James and the defending World Champs, the Cleveland Cavaliers last night 105-94. Afterwards, the Wizards had to jump on the flight to Chicago and didn’t check into their downtown hotel until after 2:00 AM this morning. It also doesn’t bode well that their high-powered starting backcourt of three-time All-Star John Wall, and sharpshooter Bradley Beal might not play this evening.

Wall, who underwent surgery on both knees over the summer, could get the night off in an effort to help preserve his health for the long-term, as NBA back-to-backs are unforgiving. Earlier this season, Wall, who played 35 minutes and scored 28 points against Cleveland last night, didn’t play in the second game of a back-to-back, and thus Wizards Head Coach, Scott Brooks, says it’s likely he will sit his star player this evening.

Beal, on the other hand, has been out nursing a strained hamstring suffered earlier in the week against Boston. He didn’t play against the Cavs and the Wizards list him as questionable for tonight’s game. Together, Wall and Beal can be a lethal combination. Wall is by far the quickest end-to-end player in the league, and Beal is capable of knocking down shots five miles from the hoop. When healthy and right, they’re a nightmare for the opposition.

Another impressive Wizard is fourth-year forward, Otto Porter. The 6’8” former Georgetown Hoya posted a career-high 34 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and three steals with zero turnovers against the Celtics this week. Last night against Cleveland, Porter played 34 minutes and notched 11 points, eight rebounds and five assists. On the season, he is averaging 16.1 points and 8.3 rebounds in 35 minutes, much improved compared to his career stats heading into this season of 7.9 points, 3.8 rebounds in 22 minutes. If Wall and Beal are out, the Wizards’ primary offensive threats will most certainly be Porter and fellow forward, Markieff Morris, who starts at the four and is averaging 13.4 points and 6.4 rebounds in 32 minutes.

The Bulls hit the home hardwood riding a wave of momentum after defeating Miami in Dwyane Wade’s return to South Beach Thursday, 98-95. Jimmy Butler led the way with 20 points and three steals while Rajon Rondo chipped in 16 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, and Robin Lopez added 16 points and nine rebounds. Wade, who hit two clutch free throws late in the game to help claim the victory, posted 13 points and snagged seven boards.

Chicago is in the midst of a particularly busy stretch, as tonight marks the team’s eighth game in 13 days. As mentioned earlier, the Bulls will embark on a high-mileage, six-game road trip after tonight, taking them first to the West Coast, and two weeks later, out east to play the 76ers in the City of Brotherly Love.

So far this season the Bulls have proven tough to beat when they get out to fast start and hold the opposition to 24 or fewer points in the opening quarter. In order for Chicago to stack another victory in the win column this evening, they’re going to have to go all out from the moment the ball is tossed up until the final buzzer. The Bulls need to come out snorting and sport a hardnosed mentality. Collectively, they have to stay in attack mode for the entire 48 minutes of the game.

Another major key will be the Bulls’ enthusiasm to crash and take command of the boards. Chicago currently ranks 3rd in overall rebounding (47.2). They have been especially effective on the offensive glass, leading the NBA with an average of 13.4 per game. Overall, they’re out-working the opposition to the tune of +6.9 boards a night.

Offensively, Chicago is at its best when they quickly push the ball up the floor and keep it jumping from player-to-player, and hopping from side-to-side. For the Bulls to succeed, the ball needs to move and not get stuck in anyone’s hands for too long. Every player has to continuously dash in and out, cutting into and away from the paint. Collectively, they are at their most effective when they attack the rim and force opponents to expend extra energy. Settling for contested jumpers just won’t cut the mustard.

Overall, Chicago has done a fine job of getting to the free throw line and cashing in. The Bulls have hit 20+ free throws five times already, which has led to a 182-107 edge at the charity stripe. In particular, Butler has been outstanding at drawing fouls, leading the team with an average of 8.8 free throw attempts per game, ranking 8th in the league. In total, the two-time All-Star has hit 69-of-79 from the stripe (.873). As a team, Chicago ranks 11th in free throw attempts (24.9) and 4th in free throw shooting percentage (.813).

The mission tonight is for the Bulls to come out fast and strong at both ends of the floor. As a team, they have to communicate and execute proper defensive rotations. The Bulls have to consistently hustle back on defense and force Washington into a half-court offense and then challenge every shot and pass they attempt.

Offensively, the Bulls have to play fast and continue to be unselfish with the ball. They also need to keep crashing the boards and aggressively look to get out on the break. If they do all of these things, they should come away with a victory.