Saturday's Bulls-Nets matchup is a game between two teams looking to get out of the cellar of the Eastern Conference. After a big offseason of change for both squads, neither expected to be coming into tonight with sub-.500 records. There is plenty of intrigue in this matchup, as this will mark the first time Bulls assistant coach Chris Fleming gets to faceoff against his former team. Here are three things to look for in tonight's Bulls-Nets matchup:
Can the Bulls take advantage of the Kyrie-less Nets?
The Bulls have had some solid luck in terms of matchups early in the season, avoiding several stars but still being unable to take advantage.
Kyrie Irving won’t play vs. Bulls, per Nets. Bulls have been on beneficial end of several stars sitting in early portion of season.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) November 16, 2019
The Nets will be without superstar point guard Kyrie Irving on Saturday night, opening the door for the Bulls to pick up a much-needed win. Brooklyn's offensive rating is a whopping 10.4 points per possession worse when Irving is off the floor.
This team is still explosive on offense and capable of putting up points in a hurry because just like the Bulls, they "coach to the math."
Joe from DEEP 🧔👌 pic.twitter.com/11U2O1E7Mc— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) November 15, 2019
Even without Irving, the Bulls will need to keep the Nets guards at bay, primarily Spencer Dinwiddie, who is averaging 17.1 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game. And in the case of Dinwiddie specifically, he may have a little extra motivation on Saturday night...
Spencer Dinwiddie "Revenge Game"?
When you think of "revenge game" possibilities against the Bulls, Spencer Dinwiddie is probably not the first name that comes to mind, but indeed, Dinwiddie played for the Bulls G League affiliate (Windy City Bulls) in the 2016-17 season.
Dinwiddie averaged 19.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 8.1 assists per game over 9 games with Windy City, the Brooklyn Nets called him up to the NBA (as he was not a two-way contract player with the Bulls) and the rest is history. What is intriguing about the whole situation is that the Bulls were quite point guard-needy at the time, deciding to go with Jerian Grant, Cam Payne, and Isaiah Canaan as their backups to then starter Rajon Rondo. He may not think about it often but Dinwiddie definitely remembers that while having the closest possible look at him with their G League team, the Bulls went on and let another team pick him up.
The Nets' belief in Dinwiddie has paid off tremendously. He is not the most explosive finisher by any means but he has the craft and guile to pull off a variety of impressive scoop shots, and he understands how and when to change speeds in order to put pressure on the defense.
At this point in the season, he is still mired in a shooting slump, hitting a paltry 29.3% of his 3-point shots. If the Bulls don't want to be the team that helps Dinwiddie break out his shooting slump, then they will need to be diligent in their perimeter closeouts.
The ultimate matchup of defense-first vs. offense-first philosophies
The Bulls brought in assistant coaches Roy Rogers and Chris Fleming to help Jim Boylen run a more effective system in 2019-20 and so far the results have been encouraging, if not wholly successful, depending on who you talk to. The Bulls are indeed getting up more 3-point shots, taking dramatically fewer midrange shots, and avoiding post-ups, but they are still 28th in the league in offensive rating. Make no mistake though, Jim Boylen is and always will be a defense-first coach and thusly is pleased with the Bulls 14th-ranked defense (106.2 points allowed per 100 possessions).
Chicago's defense has been elite at forcing the opposition into mistakes. They lead the league in opponent's turnovers, forcing the opposition into a whopping 19.6 turnovers per game.
Kris Dunn Steal & Layup pic.twitter.com/2LHoX1SYze— Coach Vega ? (@iamvega1982) October 31, 2019
Kris Dunn Steal On James Harden pic.twitter.com/gNwnAF9WxX— Coach Vega ? (@iamvega1982) November 10, 2019
Their aggressive style of play has gotten them into trouble sometimes, like when Wendell Carter Jr. fouled out in 20 minutes in Thursday's loss to the Bucks. The fact that the Bulls managed to keep things tight down the stretch without Carter in Milwaukee was impressive but not something they want to make a habit of.
Daniel Gafford doesn't appear to be any closer to getting real rotation minutes, so Carter's defense, as the lone Bulls big man capable of proving solid rim protection and switch defense, holding up against the Nets attack will have a lot to do with his ability to stay on the floor.
The Bulls defensive rotations on the perimeter will be just as, if not more important against a Nets team that comes into Saturday night shooting 39.5% on 20.3 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per game. Brooklyn is scoring 108.5 points per 100 possessions, good for the 10th best offensive rating in the league.
Boylen will need Carter to effectively quarterback the Bulls' trap-heavy system that, in the absence of Kyrie Irving—who had 17 points, 9 assists, and no turnovers against the Nuggets on Thursday—will look to get the ball out of the hands of Spencer Dinwiddie early and often. If the Bulls play defense like they have all season, there is no reason they shouldn't be able to comfortably take down a Nets team that is 25th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing 111.0 points per 100 possessions.
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