Bulls

Bulls look for second win of the season over Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

Bulls look for second win of the season over Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

The Bulls will look to snap a three-game losing streak when they welcome Trae Young and the 6-18 Atlanta Hawks to the United Center tonight. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago —until then, here's what to watch for:

Hawks’ last five (2-3)

  • Dec. 10 — L at Heat: 135-121 (OT)

  • Dec. 8 — W at Hornets: 122-107

  • Dec. 4 — L vs. Brooklyn: 130-118

  • Dec. 2 — W vs. Warriors: 104-79

  • Nov. 30 — L at Rockets: 158-111

Storyline(s) for each team

For the second time this season, the Bulls and Hawks are set to square off (the first a 113-93 drubbing by the Bulls on Nov. 6), and for the second time this season, the Hawks enter said matchup on the second night of a back-to-back. On Nov. 6, Atlanta laid an egg the night after a hard-fought win over the not-yet-disappointing Spurs in San Antonio. This time, they’re coming off an excruciating overtime defeat in Miami (something the Bulls can relate to). The Hawks’ loss to the Heat may have been even more painful than the Bulls’, if only because of the virality of it:

 

 

Overall, the Hawks have underwhelmed this season, one in which their young and exciting core of Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, DeAndre Hunter, and co. were expected by some to push the franchise closer to contention (hey, the Bulls can relate to that, too!). They enter play 6-18 (3-15 since Nov. 6) and still without Collins, who is 19 games into a 25-game suspension for violating the NBA's Anti-Drug Program. This is a winnable game.

The Bulls are banged up and fast-falling from the Eastern Conference playoff race, but strung together a couple — all things considered — quality performances against two of the league’s best teams in the Raptors and Heat earlier this week. The moral victories won over the course of their recent real-life defeats will resonate a little stronger if they can come out and play a complete game against this Atlanta team tonight. 

Player to watch: Jabari Parker (and Zach LaVine)

Screw it. These are two not-great basketball teams that chuck a ton of 3-pointers, so if the aesthetic of this one doesn't end up all-together pleasing (likely), it’ll at least be fun to watch Parker, a son of the city, go to work. He’s currently in the midst of something of a bounceback campaign — averaging 16.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 13.2 FGA on 50.2% shooting — with an emphasis on the 'bounce':

 

This also has the potential to be a big Zach LaVine game. It feels like you could posit that every night, but this Hawks team truly is a juicy matchup for him — Atlanta enters this game the 29th-rated defense in the league (114.3) and lacks a true lockdown presence on the wing to throw at him. Just two weeks ago, remember, James Harden torched the Hawks for 60 points and eight assists en route to a 158-point team performance. LaVine, shooting 33.3% and averaging only 2.3 fourth-quarter points in the Bulls’ last three games, feels due.

Matchup to watch: Trae Young + Hawks’ secondary playmakers vs. Bulls defense

On Nov. 6, the Bulls put together one of their most impressive defensive performances of the season, holding the Hawks to 6-for-30 3-point shooting and forcing 24 turnovers (the most they’ve forced in a game this season; they lead in the NBA in opponent turnovers per game).

It was a banner night for the Bulls’ blitzing pick-and-roll coverage schemes — in the game, they completely corralled Young, the Hawks highest-usage (33.4%) and most dynamic player, holding him to nine points, three assists, four turnovers and 3-for-12 shooting (0-for-8 from 3-point range). On the season, he averages 28.4 points and 8.4 assists per game on 38.2% 3-point shooting (nine attempts). 

Without his most reliable playmaking screen-and-roll partner in Collins, the Bulls were able to cut the head (Young) off the proverbial snake of the Hawks’ offensive attack the last time these two teams met. Tomas Satoransky (season-high 27 points on Nov. 6) and Kris Dunn's length and activity were key to containing Young off screens, and they'll be huge factors tonight, when the emphasis will again be on forcing the ball out of Young’s hands and into the hands of Atlanta’s secondary playmakers (primarily, their forwards). Those players weren’t able to make the Bulls pay last time, and based on the team’s league-worst 32.1% 3-point shooting percentage, there’s a solid chance they could fail to do so tonight, as well. 

After that aforementioned Nov. 6 game, Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce said, of the Bulls' defensive strategy, that they'll "never let Trae [Young] have an easy game for the rest of his career." That quip, of course, was in reference to Young’s 49-point outing against the Bulls last March. Pierce's theory will be tested again tonight.

Injury/miscellaneous updates

Yesterday, news broke of another Otto Porter Jr. injury setback — he is now set to be evaluated over the course of the next four weeks, the latest in a series of alterations to his original recovery timeline. Needless to say, a return isn’t in sight, for him or Chandler Hutchison, who is still dealing with a bruised shoulder. Even beyond Porter and Hutchison, the Bulls’ injury report is beginning to lengthen, but chalk most of these up to the wear and tear of the regular season:

As of this writing, the Hawks’ most significant absence will be Collins. Other than that, they come into this one mostly healthy.

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Zach LaVine improving his chances for Eastern Conference All-Star spot

Zach LaVine improving his chances for Eastern Conference All-Star spot

Zach LaVine let it be known the moment the NBA announced the All-Star game was coming to Chicago in 2020 that he would love to represent the Bulls in the Sunday night main event.

LaVine’s chances looked pretty slim when both he and the team got out of the gates slowly this season. LaVine averaged 20.2 points as the Bulls finished October with a 1-4 record, and he shot just 42.6% from the field in a 5-10 November.

But since that time, LaVine has picked up his offensive output, averaging 25.1 points in December and 30 points so far in January. He’s also had two of the best fourth-quarter performances of the season, carrying the Bulls to come-from-behind wins at Charlotte and vs. Cleveland at the United Center last Saturday.

In that road game against the Hornets, LaVine scored a career-high 49 points, making 13 of his 17 attempts from 3-point range, including the game-winner at the buzzer. LaVine finished one shy of the NBA record of 14 3-point makes, set by Klay Thompson against the Bulls last season.

Against the Cavaliers, LaVine scored 21 of his 42 points in the 4th quarter to help the home team erase a 15-point deficit heading into the final 12 minutes. Plus, he outdueled All-Star reserve candidate Bradley Beal earlier this month, outscoring the Wizards’ guard 30-23 in a 115-106 Bulls win.

LaVine faces a lot of competition for the four reserve spots that are potentially available for guards (three frontcourt, two backcourt, and two wild card players will be selected by conference coaches), and it could come down to whether the coaches put more emphasis on win-loss record or individual statistics. 

If Atlanta’s Trae Young and Boston’s Kemba Walker get the starting spots, LaVine will be competing with the likes of Beal, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie, Detroit’s Derrick Rose, Boston’s Jaylen Brown and Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon for anywhere between two and four spots, depending on how the wild card selections fall.

Given the recent history of coaches’ votes, you can expect Simmons and Lowry to get the nod for the two reserve backcourt spots, with LaVine and Beal the top candidates for one or both wild card selections. Plus, there’s always the chance NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will have to replace one of the 12 Eastern Conference All-Stars because of injury, with LaVine the likely top choice to represent the home city.

Zach has told reporters he’s more likely to do the Slam Dunk contest Saturday night if he’s selected for the Eastern Conference squad, so a lot could be riding on the announcement of All-Star reserves on January 30th.

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Who makes it to the All-Star Game?

zach_lavine.jpg
USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Who makes it to the All-Star Game?

The NBA All-Star Game voting is almost up and the biggest question is if Zach Lavine make the cut. Jason Goff is joined by Will Perdue, and Kendall Gill as they give their official East and West All-Stars for this season.

(2:05) - If Zach Lavine makes the ASG, who doesn't go?

(3:54) - Eastern Conference selections

(8:12) - Debate on if Trae Young should go to the ASG

(13:48) - Does the League have influence on who makes the ASG?

(15:38) - Should Lavine use Dunk Contest as leverage for the ASG?

(18:23) - How Chicago will react to having All-Star Weekend

(19:15) - Chance that Derrick Rose will make the ASG

(20:51) - Western Conference selections

(22:26) - Fan voting needs to be gone

Listen to the episode here or in the embedded player below.

Bulls Talk Podcast

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