After a three-game west coast swing, the Bulls are back home for a matchup with the 6-14 Memphis Grizzlies. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here’s what to watch for:
Grizzlies’ last five games (1-4)
Dec. 2 — L vs. Pacers: 117-104
Dec. 1 — W at Timberwolves: 115-107
Nov. 29 — L vs. Jazz: 103-94
Nov. 27 — L vs. Clippers: 121-119
Nov. 25 — L at Pacers: 126-114
One storyline for each team
These Grizzlies — who the Bulls have seen already this season in a 110-102 win in Memphis on Oct. 25 — are a young, feisty rebuilding group. But tonight, they’ll be without both of their promising 2019 first-round picks: franchise centerpiece and presumptive ROY favorite, Ja Morant (back spasms) and Brandon Clarke (hip). Still, Jaren Jackson Jr., athletic, sharp-shooting and uber-versatile defensively, is a glimpse into the future of the center position and a must-watch whenever he comes to town. Dillon Brooks is a savvy scorer quietly enjoying a career year.
But, back home (where they're 3-7 on the season) after a week on the West Coast, this remains a game the Bulls should win. The Zach LaVine/Lauri Markkanen combination will be at the center of everybody’s attention. The two had simultaneously productive outings in Monday night’s win in Sacramento, each scoring 20 points in the same game for the first time this season. LaVine had 37 points in their last matchup with Memphis, Markkanen shot 4-for-15, scoring nine.
“I think me and him started doing some more two-man game stuff, even if we had to break a little bit of offense up,” LaVine said after the Kings game. “Two-man game with me and him is deadly because if they’re helping off me, they’re going to leave a great shooter open. I’m excited.”
Before that game, LaVine had assisted 13 Markkanen field goals this season, none on pick-and-pop possessions. That two-man game developing could be transformational for the Bulls’ offense. Look out for it tonight.
Player to watch: Jaren Jackson Jr.
Depending on the availability of Jonas Valanciunas, Jackson could start at the five tonight, matching him up with draft classmate Wendell Carter Jr. Jackson is coming off his highest-scoring performance of the season, a 31-point effort against the Pacers on Monday:
His ball-handling ability and shooting prowess present a whale of a defensive challenge for Carter. But, like Carter, he often struggles with foul trouble — Jackson is tied for the league lead in personal fouls per game (4.1), Carter tied for second with four — and isn’t the strongest rebounder for his size. He’s currently averaging only 4.8 rebounds per game, and Cleaning the Glass ranks him in the 17th percentile in defensive rebounding percentage for his position.
Back in October, he did log a double-double (23 points, 11 rebounds) against the Bulls. The battle between he and Carter is sure to be entertaining all night.
Battle to watch: Lauri Markkanen vs. frontcourt
Bulls fans, though, should perhaps keep a closer eye on Markkanen’s matchup against Memphis’ frontcourt. The last time these two teams met, Markkanen appeared to struggle with the defensive length and athleticism the Grizz threw at him, mustering one of his worst shooting performances of the season. Tonight, though, Memphis will be without Brandon Clarke (25 minutes on Oct. 25) and possibly Valanciunas (18 minutes on Oct. 25).
Without the two of them, head coach Taylor Jenkins has rolled with a smallish, stretchy lineup of late, that features Solomon Hill and Jae Crowder at the forward spots. Crowder is a bulldog that backs down from no one, and Jackson behind him is one of the more dynamic shotblockers in the league, but if Markkanen’s bounceback night in Sacramento is going to catalyze a turnaround, this is a matchup he has to win.
Side note: Coby White showed out against the Grizzlies earlier in the season, scoring 25 points (11 in the fourth quarter). Big Coby nights are appointment television, and he could find opportunity to get going again in this one.
As mentioned, Morant and Clarke both won’t play for Memphis, tonight. Kyle Anderson (heel) is officially questionable, and head coach Taylor Jenkins called Valanciunas (illness), who has missed the last two games, a gametime decision.
Per Jim Boylen, both Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison will undergo follow-up MRIs today and will remain inactive until further notice. Barring an unforeseen development, there’s no reason to believe Boylen will turn away from Kris Dunn in the starting lineup until one or both of those two return.
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