Keys to the Game: Bulls at Warriors (03.29.21)

The new look Chicago Bulls visit the City by the Bay this evening to close out the season series with the Golden State Warriors at the Chase Center in downtown San Francisco. This is the second of a four-game Western Conference trek for Chicago, who come in with a 19-25 record overall, but a 10-9 mark on the road.

The Warriors earned their first win of the season, 129-128, back on December 27 at Chicago thanks to Damion Lee's game-winning 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds left. Also, in that game, Steph Curry became the Warriors' franchise all-time record holder for consecutive free throws made and joined Ray Allen and Reggie Miller as the only players in NBA history to make 2,500 3-pointers in their career.

The Warriors have won the last seven meetings against the Bulls, including the last five in the Bay Area. The last time Chicago knocked out the Warriors was on March 2, 2017, a 94-87 win at Chicago. The last time the Bulls won a road game against the Warriors occurred on January 27, 2015 (113-111 OT).

In the hope of bolstering its roster for a playoff run, the Bulls made a splash at the trade deadline last week in acquiring two-time All-Star center, Nikola Vučević from the Orlando Magic. Despite the huge move, the Bulls are coming off a third-straight loss after falling to the San Antonio Spurs Saturday night. They fell behind by as much as 26 points, but rallied late, yet still came out on the short end, 120-104.

With that being said, Chicago has been pretty good this season against below .500 teams with a record of 16-8. They're going up against a Warriors squad tonight that is currently 22-24 and struggling of late.

Vučević most certainly will be Chicago's X-factor the rest of the season. In his Bulls debut, he dropped 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting and grabbed nine boards in the loss. He has had a great 10 game stretch, averaging 21 points on 56.3% shooting.

He also adds a huge spark to what is already a potent offense. The Bulls are averaging 112.8 points per game on 48% shooting. They have a great matchup tonight against Golden State, who could be without its superstar guard, Steph Curry, who has missed the Dubs' last five games because of a tailbone contusion suffered on St. Patrick's Day down in Houston. So far, the Warriors have gone 1-6 this season in games Curry has missed. However, there's a chance Curry will return tonight as the team upgraded his status to "questionable" late Sunday after he returned to practice over the weekend.

Curry is undoubtedly the team's best player. He is averaging 29 points per game and making nearly 5 threes a game on 40% shooting from long distance.

Thus, a key factor defensively for Chicago this evening will be aggressively running snipers off the 3-point line. The Bulls have done a real good job of this most nights, as they've limited opponents to 11.3 treys a game, and a rather ordinary 34.8% success rate from the arc, ranking Chicago as the league's third-best downtown defenders in both categories. If Curry does return tonight, the Bulls will have to keep close tabs on him at all times and blanket him whenever he eyes an opportunity to spot up from downtown.

As for Chicago's offensive game plan, in order for the Bulls to succeed the ball has to generously skip from player-to-player. Persistent ball sharing customarily compels defenses to rush and frequently overreact and breakdown.

When the ball consistently jumps between players, driving lanes repeatedly open for attackers to take the ball to the hoop for easy scores and extra trips to the free throw line. Continual sharing also enables shooters stationed around the three-point arc to gain clean looks at the rim for uncontested or lightly contested jumpers.

The biggest caveat Chicago must look to avoid is slowing everything down and allowing its attack to mutate into an isolation approach where one player looks to take his defender one-on-one while everyone else stands around and watches. Selfless ball movement with constant player movement will always generate an efficient and potent offensive charge.

Another big factor of its offensive attack the Bulls need to continue working on is turnovers. Winning teams don't lose control of the ball at a high rate whenever an opponent looks to up the pressure. So far this season Chicago has been one of the league's worst turnover teams. That simply has to change, and the sooner the better. If the Bulls are really serious about getting into the playoffs this season, they have to start taking care of the ball a whole lot better.

Getting back to defense, as well as shutting down the arc, collectively, Chicago needs to buckle down in the paint and look to make their presence felt on the boards each and every game from here on out. After tonight there are only 27 games left in the season to earn a ticket to the postseason. Every game needs to be treated as a playoff game, and the Bulls upcoming schedule is daunting to say the least, for including tonight, nine of the next 10 games are on the road.

To sum everything up, the Bulls need to come out of the gates with an aggressive mindset and take control of the paint and the boards at both ends of the court. If the Bulls can achieve these goals and sustain their focus and intensity for all four quarters, they'll have a great shot of coming out on top and exacting some sweet revenge on an old-time nemesis.