Bulls

What to watch for: Bulls host the red-hot Utah Jazz in another key matchup

What to watch for: Bulls host the red-hot Utah Jazz in another key matchup

The Jazz roll into the United Center one of the hottest teams in the league, which would make a Bulls win all that sweeter. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Jazz’s last five games (4-1)

  • Dec. 30 — W vs. Pistons: 104-81

  • Dec. 28 — W at Clippers: 120-107

  • Dec. 26 — W vs. Trail Blazers: 121-115

  • Dec. 23 — L at Heat: 107-104

  • Dec. 21 — W at Hornets: 114-107

Storyline(s) to watch

After a tumultuous beginning of the season relative to expectations, the Jazz are beginning to find their tune. They enter the this one 21-12, winners of eight of their last nine and two games removed from knocking off the Clippers (at full strength) in LA. For the foreseeable future, they’ll be without Mike Conley (hamstring), who’s enduring a nightmarish season, but their current lengthy, sharp-shooting starting five of Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neal, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles and Rudy Gobert has been shredding opponents on both ends of the floor. Tonight, the Bulls are getting a good team at the wrong time.

Both teams haven’t played since Dec. 30, so fresh legs should abound. The Bulls’ last loss saw them struggle mightily with the Bucks’ length and defensive versatility; well, here’s another team that brings that in droves. The Jazz are, of course, more mortal than Milwaukee, but a win tonight remains a tall order (which, to look at it another way, would make one that much sweeter).

Player to watch: Rudy Gobert

Though Gobert is averaging his lowest blocks per game total (1.9) since his rookie year, his impact on the Jazz’s defense remains profound. When he’s on the floor, Jazz opponents take only 31.4% of the field goals at the rim and a whopping 35.5% from midrange, per Cleaning the Glass’ calculations. 

Even those impressive on/off numbers have tapered a tad compared to his transcendent mid-20s, but Gobert remains an enormous challenge for a Bulls team that likes to shoot around the basket, struggles to do so efficiently and gets shots blocked at an unnatural rate.

 

And all that's without mentioning, he’s second in the NBA in both rebounds per game (14.2) and field goal percentage (68.2%). He’s the exact type of player the Bulls have so often struggled with this season — his performance tonight will be an interesting barometer of the growth of guys like Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford.

Side note: This would be a perfect game to see Wendell Carter Jr. continue to dust off his jumper. The Jazz switch a ton, but prefer to keep Gobert anchored around the basket — if the Bulls decide to try to exploit that, the worst case is a couple missed open jimmies for Carter. The best case (if he makes a few) could be pulling Gobert out from the paint, opening up some driving and cutting lanes. 

Matchup to watch: Pace of play

If the Jazz have their way, this game will be a plodding affair. They rank 17th in the NBA in pace and though they employ a few potentially dangerous transition weapons, they rank 27th in the league in percentage of total points off fastbreak opportunities (the Bulls are sixth in that metric).

Utah has also demonstrated a penchant for turnovers, averaging 16 per game as a team (27th in the NBA). This is the formula for a Bulls win, as it is on all nights: nudge their opponent into errors and run.

Jim Boylen said Kris Dunn will take lead responsibilities handling the dynamic Donovan Mitchell. If Dunn is his typical hounding self and loose balls are flying, the Bulls could find an edge. Speaking of...

Battle to watch: Donovan Mitchell vs. Zach LaVine

This one could be a lot of fun. Mitchell is having the best all-around season of his young career, averaging career-high 25.2 points on improved efficiency, and has moved into a pseudo-point guard role with the Jazz starters in Conley’s absence. Zach LaVine is in the midst of an All-Star push after a month of December in which he averaged 25.1 points a game and shot an impressive 39.3% on 8.4 3-point attempts per game.

Obviously these two aren’t in direct competition for an All-Star spot, but it’s a chance for LaVine to go toe-to-toe with another premiere scoring guard and continue asserting his case. If this one goes down to the wire, a one-on-one showdown between them would be scintillating.

Injury update

Just one: After fully participating in practice on Wednesday, Chandler Hutchison was a full go at shootaround this morning. Boylen called him a gametime decision. 

Based on Boylen’s assessment of Dunn’s role guarding Mitchell, it didn’t sound like Hutchison would unseat Dunn in the starting lineup even if he does play. More to come as the day progresses.

UPDATE:

Chandler Hutchison will NOT play against the Utah Jazz, though he is healthy.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

NBA Mock Draft 4.0: Top of the 2020 NBA Draft still a mystery

james_wiseman.jpg
USA TODAY

NBA Mock Draft 4.0: Top of the 2020 NBA Draft still a mystery

One thing we know for sure about the 2020 NBA Draft: no team executives will be losing sleep on the eve of the lottery hoping to land the first or second pick like a year ago when the top prizes where generational power forward Zion Williamson and point guard extraordinaire Ja Morant.

Matter of fact, teams might prefer not to land one of the top three picks so they can pay less guaranteed money to a player who may not have a huge impact,

As we get closer to the start of conference tournaments around the country, no player has really distinguished himself as the clear cut No. 1 choice. Georgia’s Anthony Edwards gets credit for being available to play all season, but his poor shooting percentages from the field and the 3-point line for a bad college team hardly scream top overall pick.

Injuries and eligibility questions have kept a few of the top prospects off the court, so NBA executives will put more emphasis than ever on the information they gather during the draft combine and individual workouts.

Here’s a snapshot at where things stand in late February with our fourth mock draft.

Bulls rule out Wendell Carter Jr., Chandler Hutchison and more vs. Hornets

hutchison_thumb.jpg
USA Today

Bulls rule out Wendell Carter Jr., Chandler Hutchison and more vs. Hornets

The Bulls' injury housekeeping continues.

After Wednesday afternoon practice, Jim Boylen ruled out Otto Porter Jr. (foot), Wendell Carter Jr. (ankle), Chandler Hutchison (shoulder) and Denzel Valentine (hamstring) for Thursday night's matchup with the Charlotte Hornets.

Porter (full) and Carter (limited) both participated in practice. Carter had repeatedly expressed a desire to return in the Bulls' first game out of the break, but it appears he's not quite there yet.

While Boylen said he hasn't decided on starters for the Hornets game yet, he made a point to add that Daniel Gafford has "got his legs back" and that his rim protection will be much-needed to remedy the team's precipitous defensive slide — in five games since Kris Dunn went down with an MCL sprain, they're dead last in the NBA in defensive rating (123.2).

Hutchison had filled in nicely for Dunn over the five games leading up to the All-Star break, but something evidently re-flared up in the shoulder that caused him to miss 17 games between November and January of this season. With 19 appearances in a row dating back to Jan. 6, Hutchison was one game away from matching his career high for consecutive games played. Alas.

"We have struggled with new guys playing and some of our experienced guys not out there. So, we will just keep hammering away at it," Boylen said of the team's recent defensive woes. "I think we all know our system is solid and been productive, but personnel is a big part of that. So, we'll just keep working on our guys in that system and keep trying to perfect it."

This news dump comes on the heels of a report from the Bulls this morning that extended Dunn's reevaluation timeline to four-to-six weeks after an MRI and reexamination on his right knee on Feb. 14. The Bulls get the benefit of three straight under-.500 opponents (Hornets, Suns, Wizards) out of the break, but if guys don't start getting back soon, matters could devolve.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.