The Chicago Bulls (36-39) return home to the United Center from a successful West Coast swing winning two of three games. Tonight’s matchup is against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers (37-38). Chicago captured the series opener with the Lakers this past Sunday in LA, 118-108. It was the Bulls’ third straight victory over the Lakers after having swept last year’s two-game series. If the Bulls can beat the Lakers again tonight, it’ll be the first time in franchise history Chicago has swept two straight season-series against the purple and gold.
But in order to accomplish this goal, the Bulls will need to shake off Monday night’s 124-112 road loss to the LA Clippers. The loss was only Chicago’s third in its last 10 games, but it cost them a chance to pull even with both Toronto and Atlanta for the 8th seed in the East.
In any event, here are a couple of things to keep an eye on as the Bulls look to bounce back against the Lakers. Fans can catch tonight’s contest at 7:00 p.m. CST on NBC Sports Chicago.
THE END IS IN SIGHT
As mentioned, Monday’s loss to the Clippers has kept the Bulls 10th in the East, but they’re only a game back of both Atlanta and Toronto for a better seed. Ever since the Pandemic, teams seeded 7th through 10th take part in a mini-play-in tournament at the end of the season to earn a berth to the NBA playoffs. Chicago continues to hold its fate in their own hands in this regard, as for including tonight, there are only seven games left to play in the regular season. Consequently, every opportunity the Bulls have left to gain ground on both Toronto and Atlanta needs to be treated as if its Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
BACK TO BASICS
For Chicago to win games, they have to hit the floor with a stubborn, blue-collar mentality and eager to attack both sides of the ball.
Offensively, it’s vital the Bulls quickly establish a fast and inclusive tempo, with everyone supplying energy. Chicago has to come out of the locker room ready to run the floor, as well as collectively crash the boards. In the first meeting against the Lakers the other day, the Bulls outrebounded LA 42-38, and outran them to the tune of a 15-5 edge in fastbreak scoring. Chicago also moved the ball extremely well, handing out an impressive 32 assists. Defensively, the Bulls forced the Lakers into committing 18 turnovers. If that isn’t doesn’t impress you, then what do you think about Chicago turning those miscues into 34 points?
Without question, that same effort and diligence will be needed this evening to knock-off the Lakers for a second time in three days.
SHARING IS CARING, AND IT’S ALSO THE KEY TO SUCCESS
Often taken for granted, but nonetheless a primary key to achieving success is a team’s ability and willingness to generously share the ball. The Bulls are no exception to that rule. When Chicago keeps the ball on the move, skipping it from player to player and aggressively cuts in and out of the paint to open paths to the basket, good things always happen. Coming into tonight, the Bulls are 21-10 whenever they record more assists than their opponents. And, when the Bulls’ bench outscores its counterparts, the record clocks in at 19-9.
Caring also carries over to the defensive end of the floor, as each player has to actively defend the basket and be willing to do whatever is called for to make something good happen. That means everyone, be they an All-Star or the 9th man off the bench, needs to jump passing lanes, dive onto the floor for a loose ball, as well as recognize when they need to rotate off their assigned man to provide rugged help defense.
As a team, the Bulls come in tonight averaging 113.4 points, which ranks 20th overall. And although that placing isn’t great, they’re the NBA’s No. 4 team when it comes to shooting, hitting an impressive 49.1% from the floor. The Lakers, on the other hand, come in averaging 116.4 points, ranking 10th in the league. They’re also shooting a respectable 47.9% (11th). But where the rubber hits the road is defensively, as Chicago is the far better team in that aspect.
Defensively, Chicago is holding opponents to only 112.4 points per game, ranking 8th in the league. The Bulls have also done of good job of making life difficult for opponents to shoot, holding them to 46.8%, which also ranks as the 8th best mark.
Chicago also ranks in the top-10 in several other gritty categories, such No. 2 at contesting three-point shots (20.6) per game, and No. 5 in defensive loose balls recovered (2.5) per game, as well as No. 10 when it comes to steals (7.6) per game.
In fact, the Bulls have been a stubborn defensive team for the entire season, as they currently rank as the 5th best defensive team with an impressive 111.9 rating.