The Chicago Bulls return home looking to get back on track against the Minnesota Timberwolves after falling, 111-98, on the road to the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday. Tonight's contest is the first to two between the Bulls and Wolves on the year. Minnesota swept the season series last year (2-0) and have won seven of the past eight meetings overall, including three in-a-row coming into tonight. Both teams sport identical 3-8 records this month, with Minnesota really skidding of late in having lost six straight, while the Bulls have come up short in three of their last five.
Despite the offensive brilliance of Zach LaVine, as a team the Bulls have struggled to put points on the board this season, ranking 25th in the league at 105.7 per game. LaVine, who tipped-off his NBA career with the Wolves for three seasons, comes into tonight's contest having notched 20+ points in 11 straight games, and leads the team in scoring with an average of 25 points, to go along with 4.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.5 steals. He posted 24 points against the Bucks the other day, passing the 3,000-point total (3,017) in just 132 games as a Chicago Bull. In franchise history, only Hall of Famer Michael Jordan (108 games) has accomplished this feat quicker. In addition, LaVine also knocked down two 3-pointers against Milwaukee, bringing his Windy City total to 300 treys, overall. No player in team history — not even Jordan — has done something like that while wearing a Bulls uniform in such a short period of time.
As for the Timberwolves, they currently rank 15th overall in scoring at 111.1 points per game, but 25th in opponent scoring, at 114.6 a night. All-Star big man Karl-Anthony Towns leads the offensive attack, averaging a double-double of 26 points and 11.1 rebounds.
Another key Minnesota contributor is swingman Andrew Wiggins, who notches 22.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
For the Bulls to come out on top tonight they're going to have to produce a hardnosed effort at both ends of the floor. To be effective on offense, Chicago must freely share the ball, crisply skipping it from player-to-player and from side-to-side in search of an open outside shot or unguarded driving lane to rim. Every player must stay engaged. The ball can't end up stuck in any one players hand while the rest stand around and watch. The offense must establish a rhythm and be unselfish. The team simply cannot force LaVine to carry the scoring burden alone. Continuous movement, cutting and slashing through the paint with or without the ball, as well as a desire from everyone to be aggressive and the willingness to make the "extra pass" in pursuit of an open teammate is vital.
Defensively the Bulls must don their hard hats and outhustle and outwork Minnesota in every way possible. A collective, hardnosed and focused effort, with everyone communicating and staying glued to their assigned man, and doing so without falling into a trap of frequently fouling, will go a long way to winding up as the last team standing at the end of the night.