Keys to the Game: Bulls at Wizards (12.18.19)

The Bulls visit our Nation's Capital to meet the Washington Wizards at Capital One Center for the first time this season. The teams will get together on three more occasions, the next in Chicago on January 15, before squaring off twice more over a four-game span in February.

The Bulls come into tonight's contest looking to get back on track after suffering another late game collapse in which they blew a 26-point first-half lead to fall on the road, 109-106, to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday.

After arguably playing their best stretch of basketball this season by upsetting the LA Clippers at the United Center on Saturday, and then putting 67 points on the board to take a commanding 19-point lead at halftime in OKC, Chicago suddenly stopped moving the ball and trusting one another, posting more turnovers than assists in the second half, and allowing the Thunder to outscore them 60-38 over the last 24 minutes to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Bulls were brilliant at both ends of the court early, freely swinging the ball from side-to-side to gain open looks at the hoop, as well as defensively, collecting 10 steals in the first 16 minutes of the game. By halftime they had forced 12 turnovers and converted them into 26 points. Chicago shot a blistering 58% from the field, with Zach LaVine leading the way with 17 points.

Then the wheels fell off.

The Wizards return home tonight after snapping a four-game losing streak thanks to Bradley Beal's double-double of 35 points and 10 assists, and the healthy return of backcourt mate, Isaiah Thomas, who out injured for the preceding five games with a bum leg.

Not only was Beal superb, Thomas heated up down the stretch, drilling three late 3-pointers to secure a 133-119 victory over the Pistons in Detroit on Monday. The 133 points scored marked an NBA-best sixth time DC has reached that threshold this year.

For Chicago to come out on top this evening they're going to need to clear their heads and deliver a hardnosed, blue-collar effort in every phase of the game. When the Bulls set a fast pace from the opening tip and keep pressing on, they tend to do well. Not only will they need an explosive start tonight, they'll need to dig deep and keep the energy flowing until the final buzzer.

For the Bulls to succeed it's vital they play unselfishly, sharing the ball with one another, skipping it from player-to-player and from side-to-side, while exploiting every opportunity to drive the ball to the front of the rim.

All five players on the court must stay involved in what's going on in front of them. The ball cannot get stuck in any one player's hands. The offense simply can't turn into a series of isolation, one-on-one battles.

Defensively Chicago must produce a rugged tone with every defender sticking close to their assigned man without fouling and go all out for every rebound and loose ball.

Coming into tonight the Bulls lead the league in opposition turnovers (18.7). Monday in OKC, they forced a season-high 26, which was the 10th time this year they've forced 20 or more in a game. To win tonight the Bulls will need to continue along this path, quickly recognizing when the right time arrives to jump passing lanes and double-team the ball to knock Washington off stride. They also must take advantage of those fumbles by securing the ball and streaking down the floor to post easy scores in transition.