Bulls need to play 'perfect game' or Warriors 'could tear us apart'


Bulls need to play 'perfect game' or Warriors 'could tear us apart'

It's just one of 82 regular season home games. Win by 20 or lose by 50, they'll still be at least seven games over .500 and in the top four in the Eastern Conference. By season's end Wednesday night's game will be a blip on the radar of a long, up-and-down season they hope ends on a high note.

All those statements are true of the Bulls' matchup against the defending champion Golden State Warriors tonight at the United Center. But even some of their most veteran players, ever cautious not to get caught up in the moment, understand the importance of tonight's game.

"It’s the hottest team in the NBA, team with the best record, so yeah it does feel a little different because of the challenge they present," said veteran Pau Gasol. "We’re going to have to play our best basketball in order to be able to have an opportunity to win tonight."

[MORE BULLS: Bulls prepare for daunting task against champion Warriors]

Such is life for every opponent facing the Warriors, who at 38-4 are on pace to break the 1996 Bulls' 72-10 record and are the favorites to repeat as NBA champions. But beyond what reigning MVP Stephen Curry and the run-and-gun Warriors may accomplish by June, they're a matchup nightmare on both ends of the floor and tout not only the most lethal starting unit in the league, but also a bench that rarely skips a beat when called upon.

Led by Curry's league-leading 30.0 points per game - despite him averaging 33.9 minutes per game, 33rd most in the NBA thanks to the Warriors' copious blowouts - the Warriors rank first in the NBA in offensive efficiency (112.4), effective field goal percentage (56.0%), assists per game (28.7) and made 3-pointers per game (12.8). Stretch forward Draymond Green has become a legitimate MVP candidate, a five-category contributor who leads the NBA with eight triple-doubles, and Klay Thompson is averaging career-bests in field goal percentage and 3-pointers per game.

They showed signs of mortality last week, losing games to the Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons, the latter by 25 points. But they responded with arguably their most impressive win of the year - which says a lot considering they've already got 38 of them - handing LeBron James his worst home loss in a 43-point drubbing of the Cavaliers in Cleveland.

[LIVE STREAM: Bulls-Warriors pregame warm-ups at 4:30 p.m.]

"They present a very difficult matchup," Gasol added. "They move extremely well without the basketball, they have great shooting on the floor, they spread the floor really well with Steph being such a threat from anywhere on the floor he creates attention. He allows Draymond to make plays for himself and others and so they have great balance overall. They’re a tough matchup."

Working in the Bulls' favor, aside from playing at home where they're 16-7, is that they played the Warriors close in Oracle Arena back in November, falling 106-94 without point guard Derrick Rose. The Bulls led that game with less than 9 minutes to play and were within a single possession inside 2 minutes before the Warriors closed on a 12-3 run.

Also, the Bulls have played their best basketball against some of the league's best competition. Though they've got a handful of inexplicable losses, their impressive resume of wins includes victories over Oklahoma City (twice), Cleveland and San Antonio. Of the teams with the six best records in the NBA - the Bulls have the seventh at 24-16 - they've beaten time of them a total of six times, with the Warriors being their only miss.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The Bulls have lost four of six but enter Wednesday night games with some confidence, having knocked off the Pistons on the road Monday afternoon. A loss certainly wouldn't be a sign of a team falling off, while a win would signal once again that the Bulls have the talent to compete with any team in the NBA. In order to do that, the defense that has faltered the last few weeks will need to step up in a big way against a Warriors offense that can rattle off points in a hurry and won't slow up, like they did Monday night when they scored 132 points on the Cavaliers.

"We have to have pretty much a perfect game from beginning to end, top to bottom," Gasol admitted. It’s going to come down to us being the more aggressive team tonight and if we can do that and get into them defensively, make it uncomfortable for them, make them take tougher shots than usual, rebounding the ball, not giving them second opportunities, kind of taking control of the game, which is a tough test, we’ll have a better chance and a good chance to win.

"If we allow them to play their game, to be comfortable out there, to take any shot they want with the shooters they’ve got out there, they could tear us apart."

Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

There is much discussion in the basketball community surrounding the value of the midrange shot following a Sun-Times article from Joe Cowley that discussed the Bulls analytics department wanting Zach LaVine to limit his mid-range attempts, and a segment on ESPN's The Jump, discussing the same topic. On Tuesday morning Matt Moore of the Action Network chimed in, offering up the statistics that clearly support the notion that LaVine should be shooting many, many more 3-pointers than 2s. 

While Moore's points were solid and backed up by the numbers, NBA superstar Kevin Durant offered up his opinion from a player's perspective. Durant backed up LaVine's quote of "sometimes there's nothing better than putting the ball in your best playmaker's hands and letting him get the shot he needs rather than the one you want." KD commented that he has seen too many players pass up wide-open midrange shots to force up 3-pointers or contested shots at the rim, with analytics having an influence on the shots that players take, referring the mid-range as "forbidden."

Durant went on to comment and respond to users' comments on the situation. In one response Durant agrees with a user who states that he is teaching his son to work on his mid-range game first and shoot 3-pointers once he is strong enough, stating "that's how I was taught."

Moore had some fun with the response from Durant, stating that when he initially tweeted about the topic, his intentions were not to get into a debate on the value of mid-range shots with an active NBA player who is already among the all-time greats. 

 Moore's original sentiment agrees with what the Bulls' analytics department is trying to accomplish. LaVine has always been a good mid-range shooter but last year alone he shot 35.8% on mid-range shots and 37.4% on 3-point attempts.

It is obvious that players still need to have to players who can hit mid-range attempts, as some of the best teams in the league—including recent NBA champions Toronto and Golden State, who finished second in the league in percentage of points coming from mid-range shots—have relied on players who can generate solid mid-range attempts in high-leverage moments. But Durant's point is important to note too.

Durant stated that you have to be "confident to make any shot" but countered that whatever you work on the most is what you will be best at. He doubled down on that point, saying most primary scoring options in the NBA shouldn't worry about analytics and should play off of feel, rather than numbers. 

Ultimately, there has to be a balance.

As we have seen through the preseason, taking fewer shots from the mid-range has certainly appeared to benefit LaVine's game, as he is currently fourth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 23.3 points per game through three contests. But taking what the defense gives you, especially when you are as confident of a player as Durant or LaVine, still needs to be emphasized. 

In what should be a huge season for LaVine, he will again have a high-usage rate as he looks to lead the Bulls to a bounce-back season and mid-range shots, while limited, will still be a part of his shot profile.

So as far as Chicago Bulls fans should be concerned, this is a win-win. LaVine has clearly taken to heart was the Bulls' analytics department is preaching by shooting fewer mid-rangers but he still understands that that shot is going to be necessary for certain moments. So when LaVine is open from mid-range in 2019-20, the Bulls coaching staff will likely be saying the same thing Durant did on Tuesday morning, "Shoot em Zach."

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Watch Lauri Markkanen and Cristiano Felício brave a haunted house

USA Today

Watch Lauri Markkanen and Cristiano Felício brave a haunted house

Lauri Markkanen is 7-feet tall.  Cristiano Felício is 6-feet-10. It’s safe to say they’re big guys, which would lead you to believe they wouldn’t be scared by much.

In a preseason outing to 13th Floor Haunted House in Chicago, Lauri and Felício showed that height doesn’t mean you’re immune to spooks (especially when Benny the Bull is let loose in the haunted house control room).  

Watch them try to maneuver their tall frames through cobwebs and zombies in the video posted to the Bulls’ Twitter here.

Viewers beware, ghastly ghouls and frightened NBA stars await you.

Despite all the screaming, the Bulls players sounded like they had a fun night. Lauri even responded to video on Twitter saying that while maybe he got scared a little, he ultimately had a good time.

Hey, if they can face-off against monsters and chainsaw mascot maniacs, taking on the other teams in NBA won’t seem so bad!

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.