Keys to the Game: Bulls at Wizards (12.29.20)

After a rough three game opening to the season at home, the Bulls hit the road for the first time, traveling to our Nation's Capital to take on the Washington Wizards for a pair of games beginning this evening (and concluding Thursday afternoon) at Capital One Arena. Fans can catch all the action live on TV and radio (NBC Sports Chicago / WSCR-AM 670) tonight at 6:00 PM.

Both the Bulls and Wizards hit the hardwood searching for their first victory on the new season. Last year Chicago won the season series for the second time in a row, taking 3 of 4 from the Wizards.

The Bulls dropped to 0-3 this season following its 129-128 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday at the United Center. Chicago led by two late in the game, but Golden State's Damion Lee drained a three-pointer with 1.7 seconds left to play. Zach LaVine produced 33 points to lead the Bulls in the loss, as Chicago shot a blistering 51.2 percent from the field, including 17 of 41 (.415) from three-point range, and controlled the boards by a 54-41 margin, but also turned the ball over 24 times.

LaVine comes into tonight's contest leading the Bulls in scoring with an average of 24.0 points per game, while center Wendell Carter Jr. is the leader in rebounds with a mark of 8.3, and point guard Coby White the team leader in assists with an average of 5.0. In total, the Bulls have seven players averaging double-figures in scoring, and as a team are shooting 43.2% and 35.7% from three-point territory.

Washington also comes in winless at 0-3 after falling 120-113 to the Orlando Magic on Sunday. Washington ran out of gas late as they were outscored in the fourth quarter, 43-19, after leading by 17 to start the final stanza. The Wizards top offseason addition, Russell Westbrook, did not play Sunday, but All-Star Bradley Beal did, and he was the leading scorer for Washington with 29 points.

Beal leads the Wizards in scoring so far this season with an average of 33.0 points per game, while Westbrook is Washington's second leading scorer at 18.0. Westbrook, who played in the team's first two games, is also leading DC in rebounds and assists with averages of 13.0 rebounds and 13.5 dimes a night. As of this writing, Westbrook is expected to be back in action against the Bulls. As a team so far, Washington is shooting an impressive 47.7% overall and 35.4% from 3-point territory.

Tonight is the third game in four nights for both the Bulls and Wizards, so that is something that could end up being a factor this evening. Each team also finds itself in the middle of the pack offensively this season and has its work cut out for them going forward. The Bulls have plenty of guys capable of contributing on the offensive end, but defensively the team looks to have a long way to go before turning the corner. The Wizards have also had plenty of defensive issues so far, so it should be interesting to see what happens tonight.

As for what to look for this evening, the Bulls must do a better job of trusting one another at both ends of the floor. Offensively they must freely share the ball, skipping it from player-to-player and from side-to-side, forcing Washington to expend extra energy on defense for most of the night. The Bulls cannot slip into the bad habit of allowing the ball to stick in any one player's hands for too long. Constant movement – ball and player – is crucial when it comes to establishing a free-flowing rhythm.

Another possible factor for the Bulls in tonight's game is the fact that the team's second leading scorer, Lauri Markkanen (20.0 points per game) has been listed as questionable after sustaining a calf contusion in Sunday's loss to Golden State. Dating back to last season, the 7'0" Finnish forward has scored 15 or more points in five straight games, and so far, this season, he's shooting a ridiculous .476 from behind the arc. So, if Markkanen is unable to play tonight, the Bulls will need someone to step up to the challenge of filling his shoes. Maybe that player is veteran forward Thad Young, who hasn't played at all due to a lower left leg infection suffered during the preseason? Young has been upgraded to probable for tonight.

As for the Wizards, if they're to make the playoffs, both Beal and Westbrook need to stay healthy, and most likely Washington is going to need a third player to step up and help carry the load whenever DC's top two stars have off nights.

Lastly, the Bulls and Chicago fans will get their first look tonight at Wizards rookie swingman Deni Avdija. The versatile and talented 6'9" Israeli was selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2020 Draft last month. Avdija just missed recording his first NBA double-double against the Magic the other night, posting 9 points and 9 rebounds in 36 minutes of action.