Tonight, the Bulls travel down I-65 South to catch up with their longtime Central Division rivals, the Indiana Pacers, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Although Chicago has so far come up short in each of their preseason games up to this point, the final scores aren't necessarily important. What matters most is how the team seems to be coming together as a collective unit.
So far, the Bulls have taken 202 shots overall, including 75 3-point attempts and enter tonight averaging 118.5 points a game. They've also done a terrific job of sharing and taking care of the ball, handing out 62 assists while turning it over 33 times. On the other hand, defensively the numbers are not all that pretty as opponents are putting up 124.5 points and shooting 51.1% from the field against the Bulls. Yet it's not all bad as Chicago has also forced opponents to commit 45 turnovers (off 19 steals) in two games.
The other night Head Coach Jim Boylen tweaked his starting lineup by tabbing newcomer Tomas Satoransky to take the place of Kris Dunn at the point, while Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr. and Cristiano Felicio each made their second consecutive start. Once again Wendell Carter Jr. missed the action nursing a couple of nagging bumps and bruises. However, there's a better than even chance tonight he will make his debut against the Pacers.
In the opening tilt against Milwaukee Monday, Chicago attempted 38 3-pointers. Wednesday against New Orleans they launched 37. In fact, five different players attempted at least five 3s against the Pels, led by LaVine's seven long tosses. Chicago's marksmanship from behind the arc improved a bit against New Orleans as they connected on 14 from deep (37.8%) Wednesday, versus 12 (31.6%) Monday.
Another positive aspect worth mentioning is how freely the ball has skipped from player to player. The best teams always play unselfishly, and so far, the Bulls have shown a great deal of generosity amongst themselves. Crisp and consistent ball movement helps teams find a rhythm, and against New Orleans Chicago discovered its groove during the opening half with 24 assists on 30 made field goals. Nine players dished at least one helper during that stretch as the Bulls built a 20-point lead during the opening 24 minutes. All-in-all Chicago handed out 38 assists against the Pels while featuring multiple "space-the-floor" lineups.
And speaking of "spacing-the-floor," free agent signee Luke Kornet, a 7'1" semi-secret weapon, showed the ability to make an impact as soon as he entered the game halfway through the opening quarter. The former Vanderbilt product who played with the Knicks last season, is no ordinary big man. Not only can he protect the rim on defense, he's also a nifty passer and true shot from far beyond the arc. In his first couple of offensive possessions Kornet quickly found Satoransky for an open 3, and then hit Porter Jr. in stride for an easy layup. In the end Big Luke finished with nine points on 4-of-7 shooting (1-of-2 from the arc) and four assists in 16 minutes.
Zach LaVine sparkled as well, posting a team-best 28 points, hitting 4-of-7 from deep, while Otto Porter Jr. contributed 16 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Lauri Markkanen added a dozen points as well, and Satoransky chipped in 11 more to go along with eight assists. Rookie Coby White also left his mark on the game with 13 points, three rebounds and three assists with only one turnover in 27 minutes.
The Pacers take to the home hardwood tonight for the first time after winning a pair of high-scoring games against the Sacramento Kings in the first-ever NBA India Games played in Mumbai last weekend. Indiana topped 130 points in both victories (Game 1: 132-131 OT; Game 2: 130-106).
The Pacers currently are sporting four new starters even though they were a playoff team last year. Summer pickups TJ Warren and Jeremy Lamb combined for 50 points in the preseason opener, while fellow newcomer Malcolm Brogdon added 15 points and 14 assists. Indy's low post tag-team of Myles Turner at center and Domantas Sabonis at power forward, also proved formidable starting side-by-side for the first time, combining for 32 points and 25 rebounds.
The Pacers bench came up big the next night in blowing out the Kings by 24, 130-106. Power forward Alize Johnson, a 2018 second-round pick out of Missouri State, stormed off the bench to lead Indy with 17 points and eight rebounds. Former Bulls forward JaKarr Sampson also chipped in 15 points off the pine, while another ex-Bull, Justin Holiday added 14 more.
As for tonight's contest look for Boylen to continue to try out multiple lineup combinations throughout the game. Tonight, will also be the first opportunity Bulls free agent pick up Thaddeus Young gets to tip-off against his old team, as he spent the previous three seasons as a co-captain with the Pacers.