Bulls

Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

Is there any better way to break in your new Black Friday television than Bulls-Warriors tonight? We think not. Coverage starts at 9 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, and the game is also available to stream via the NBC Sports app

Here are three things to keep your eye on: 

1. Not the score. Let's be honest: the Bulls probably won't sneak out a win at the Oracle. In fact, ESPN's matchup predictor only gives Fred Hoiberg's young squad a 2.9 percent chance to come up victorious. UIC has three times better odds against juggernaut Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Sunday, in case you needed some context.  

With the talent gap in mind, though, it will be important for the Bulls to come out with high energy. The Warriors will likely take the contest lightly in the first half, so starting off strong reflects well on the coaching staff and starters. Stay within 10 points by the half, and that's considered a massive triumph. 

2. Lauri Markkanen vs. Warriors defense. Even though Draymond Green and Kevin Durant will sit tonight, the Warriors defense has more than enough to challenge the prized rookie. The Dubs' team defense is among the best in the NBA, thanks to their physicality, attention to detail and speed. 

Markkanen is coming off two duds on the West Coast trip, but his aggressiveness hasn't wavered. It'll be important for him to continue to attack even with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year hounding him. 

3. Steph and Klay doin' work. The Bulls offense hasn't exactly been a thing of beauty through the first 16 games. Their offensive rating is a brutal 94.4, ranked last in the NBA. Golden State, on the other hand, sits at the top with a rating of 113.1. 

Take some time to admire the skills of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson because when it comes to working cohesively on offense, they've set the gold standard. 

What to watch for when the Bulls and Bucks face off again

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USA Today

What to watch for when the Bulls and Bucks face off again

After narrowly falling to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in Milwaukee last Thursday, the Bulls welcome them to the United Center Monday night. The game tips off on NBC Sports Chicago at 7 p.m. CT — until then, here’s what to watch for: 

1. Regression to the mean — on both sides

The Bulls knew in the moment that their “frustrating” 124-115 loss to the Bucks last Thursday represented a massive missed opportunity. Sure, there were positives to take away: In the game, the Bulls shot 18-of-43 (41.9%) from 3-point range to the Bucks’ 6-of-33 (18.2%) and turned Milwaukee over 22 times.

The downside? All of those figures are (or are tied for) single-game worsts for the Bucks this season and aren’t likely to repeat. Granted, there are areas where the Bulls might see positive regression, as well. The 20 turnovers they committed in that game — for instance — is their season-high, Wendell Carter only played 20 minutes due to persistent foul trouble and the Bucks’ 70-32 points-in-the-paint advantage remains downright unfathomable, even for an elite interior team. 

But if the extremes from their last meeting even marginally level out, the Bucks will probably have the edge. To keep this one competitive, the Bulls will need to stay out of foul trouble (good luck), rotate and close out decisively, and hope for better 3-point luck than in Saturday’s game against the Nets, when they shot 9-for-39 (23.1%) from distance.

2. “Basketball karma”

Remember this?

 

The Bulls will.

“It is what it is,” Thad Young said in reference to Eric Bledsoe’s post-buzzer dunk Thursday night after the game. “It happened. We just have to be ready when we play them in four or five days. We gotta be ready to get a win.”

When asked about the play, Kyle Korver confessed to believing in, “basketball karma.”

Monday night, the Bulls will have to make their own karma on their home floor. Each of their last two losses have featured a litany of untimely turnovers, lost loose balls and defensive breakdowns, especially late in the game. If Young is to be believed, the Bulls — a team that typically takes care of the rock and ranks well in most hustle stats — should come into this one laser-focused and ready to compete against a (still) undermanned Bucks squad. 

Avoiding the second-half swoon

Key in that last point, though, will be not over-exerting themselves out of the gate. At the risk of stating the obvious: These Bulls are a bad second-half team, and at the heart of that issue has been the defense. These (select) first/second half splits are… illustrative:

First half: 98.7 Def Rtg, 43.7 opp FG% (28.7 3P%), 73.7 Def Reb%, +1.5 point differential

Second half: 114.0 Def Rtg, 48.5 opp FG% (36.7 3P%), 69.7 Def Reb%, -4.8 point differential

That dissonance was on full display on Thursday, as the Bucks flipped a one-point halftime deficit into a nine-point victory. The bright side for Chicago is that, even in running away with that game, the Bucks weren’t devastatingly efficient shooting or distributing the ball — the contest flipped in the paint and at the charity stripe. An extra burst of energy from playing on their home floor, combined with a focus on defensive discipline, could turn the Bulls’ fortunes in the rematch.

4. Finding fluidity on offense

Even in a disappointing defeat, that first matchup against the Bucks was one of the Bulls more impressive — albeit streaky — offensive performances of the season. In it, they racked up 25 assists, hoisted 43 3-point attempts and utilized a lot of movement off screens and dribble-drives to generate good looks:

They clawed their way back into Saturday’s game against the Nets on the back of a 36-point night from Zach LaVine, but the team’s offense often stagnated. Their 15 assists against Brooklyn was a season-low.

The Bulls know their best offense comes when they’re moving the ball, moving themselves and playing together. Against one of the top defenses in the league in Milwaukee, it will be worth monitoring if the Bulls devolve into iso-heavy offense when times are tough, or if they can draw upon past successes and fully lean into the offense Jim Boylen wants them to run.

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NBA Power Rankings: Heat surging with Jimmy Butler

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USA TODAY

NBA Power Rankings: Heat surging with Jimmy Butler

It’s homecoming week at the United Center with Robin Lopez, Kyle Korver and the Bucks visiting Monday, followed by Derrick Rose, Tony Snell and the Pistons on Wednesday and then Jimmy Butler’s Miami Heat come to town Friday night. 

Miami has been one of the big surprises of the opening month, matching the best start in franchise history with a 9-3 record through 12 games. That’s even more remarkable considering the back-to-back championship teams led by LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh, and those strong Miami teams in the mid-90s led by Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway.

Erik Spoelstra has done an excellent job of juggling his early season rotations, still searching for the best lineup combinations. Miami has been very effective at the offensive end, averaging 111.2 points and 26.3 assists per game, while shooting just under 48% from the field as a team.

Butler has been content to play more of a facilitator role, especially early in games. The four-time All-Star is averaging a career best 7.2 assists per game, setting the tone for the Heat’s unselfish play. But he still can score when needed, as evidenced by a 30-point first half in Phoenix on Nov. 7.

Third-year center Bam Adebayo has come back a much improved offensive player this season, averaging a double-double in points and rebounds, while rookie backcourt players Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro have emerged as instant contributors. 

Miami also has some solid vets to call on in Goran Dragic, Kelly Olynyk, Meyers Leonard and James Johnson. If the Heat are still among the top four teams in the East at the end of January, don’t be surprised if Pat Riley looks to swing a trade for Chris Paul or some other veteran difference maker.

Where do the Heat rank this week? Check out the latest power rankings here.