Tonight the Bulls visit the two-time defending NBA World Champion Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. The Warriors will be playing their second game (both at home) in the last six days, whereas the Bulls take floor after falling to Portland (124-112) just 48 hours ago to tip-off a five-game Western Conference road trek. After tonight Chicago heads straight to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Jazz tomorrow, and then visit Hollywood to meet the Lakers Tuesday, before ending up in Denver next Thursday to face the Nuggets before going back home.
Tonight also closes the season series between the Bulls and Warriors. The first time they met happened on October 29th at the United Center where the 'Dubs, led by shooting guard Klay Thompson, dominated beginning to end, 149-124. Thompson set a league record with 14 3-pointers and finished with 52 points. In fact Golden State went 17-of-27 from deep in the first half alone, establishing another NBA mark for most threes in a half. Chicago had three players come off the bench to score double figures that night, led by Antonio Blakeney's 21, Jabari Parker's 15 and Shaq Harrison's 13. It was the third straight time the Warriors had defeated the Bulls.
Chicago (10-31) comes into tonight having lost six of their last seven and five in a row. If they are to give themselves a legitimate chance of coming out on top this evening they're going to need to play with plenty of grit and aggression. The Warriors are blessed with three of the top five players in the game in Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and the aforementioned Klay Thompson. Each is an elite perimeter shooter capable of taking over in a moment's notice. For Chicago to keep things interesting, they're going to need to be physical with all three. Defensively the Bulls cannot afford to leave any of them alone, especially at the 3-point arc. A defender will need to stick close and not allow any of them room to breathe.
Offensively, the Bulls will need to make Golden State expend extra energy by consistently running them into picks and forcing them to chase while the ball hops between all five Chicago players.
The Bulls will likely look to grind the shot clock down to just under five seconds on each possession before attempting a shot. To achieve any success playing the slow game, they are going to have to force the Warriors to fight through countless screens and focus on defending the perimeter as well as the paint. If Chicago's offense ever stagnates, with players stopping or standing around and watching teammates go one-on-one, they'll get blown out. Everyone has to freely move about and everyone must stay focused.
Golden State ranks third in the league in scoring (116.7 points), first in overall shooting (48.4%), first in free throw shooting (82.4%), first in assists (28.3), fourth in made 3s (12.4), fifth in defensive rebounding (36.1) and ninth in overall rebounding (46.1). They've scored 40 or more points in a quarter seven time, and posted at least 120 points in a game 18 times. As a team they've even dished 30 or more assists 14 times. Without a doubt, when it comes to all around, unselfish play, the Warriors are the NBA's gold standard.
In order to post an upset tonight Chicago will have to be smart with the ball in limiting turnovers that could very easily ignite Golden State's high-powered offense, as the 'Dubs want to play fast and get into transition at every opportunity.
As mentioned earlier, another important key will be to limit Durant, Curry and Thompson's opportunities from the 3-point arc, and the team's ability to control the defensive glass. Golden State currently ranks third in the league in fastbreak scoring (18.1). Thus the Bulls cannot allow the 'Dubs to control the boards, for if they do, they'll run Chicago out of the gym.