De'Aaron Fox

What to watch for: Bulls look to build momentum against struggling Kings

USA Today

What to watch for: Bulls look to build momentum against struggling Kings

Kings’ last five games (0-5)

  • Jan. 22 — L at Pistons: 127-106

  • Jan. 20 — L at Heat: 118-113 (OT)

  • Jan. 18 — L at Jazz: 123-101

  • Jan. 15 — L vs. Mavericks: 127-123

  • Jan. 13 — L vs. Magic: 114-112

Another struggling squad

On Wednesday, the Bulls (17-29) extended a Timberwolves losing streak to seven games. Tonight, they’ll look to do the same to Sacramento (15-29). Once thought of as a viable contender for a playoff spot, the Kings enter play losers of 15 of their last 18 games and ahead of only the 10-36 Warriors in the West — a stretch defined by untimely injuries, chemistry malfunctions and evident lackluster play. 

Also like the Wolves, the Kings are in the midst of an extended road trip — theirs a five-game swing that wraps up Monday in Minnesota. The Bulls pounced on the Timberwolves early on Wednesday, at one point establishing a 19-point second quarter lead and scoring 15 points off of 12 turnovers in the first half. Per Cleaning the Glass, Sacramento owns the ninth-highest turnover rate in the NBA (15%), though they’ve been average in that regard since De’Aaron Fox’s return from injury on Dec. 17. 

Fox missed these teams’ last meeting on Dec. 2, but is averaging 19.7 points and 7.2 assists on 49.8% shooting since coming back; his downhill force and the sharpshooting Buddy Hield will be a handful in the backcourt.

Still, the Kings are a bottom-ten team in net rating, assist and rebound rate, true shooting percentage and pace. And they’re fresh off a 21-point loss to the Pistons sans Andre Drummond, Luke Kennard and Blake Griffin. The Bulls should be able to speed them up and pull this one out — if not, it would be disappointing.

Two thin frontcourts, and Markkanen gaining an edge

Marvin Bagley III (foot sprain) and Richaun Holmes (shoulder soreness) have both already been listed as inactive for Sacramento. That thins the Kings’ frontcourt down to, presumably, a starting pairing of Nemanja Bjelica and the embattled Dewayne Dedmon, with Anthony Tolliver and Harry Giles III off the bench. Harrison Barnes is also capable of filling spot minutes at the four.

The Bulls, of course, are still without Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford for the immediate future — Gafford is just over a week into his 2-4 week recovery schedule, Carter two weeks into his 4-6 week timetable. Luke Kornet (averaging 11 points and 1.2 blocks in his last five) and Cristiano Felicio (coming off a double-double) have performed admirably in their stead, but not having to see Bagley or the electric Holmes (13.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per game, 66% shooting; 20 points, nine rebounds on Dec. 2) is welcome news, regardless.

Also welcome would be another encouraging Lauri Markkanen performance, which we certainly have a chance for tonight. The Wolves game represented only the sixth time Zach LaVine and Markkanen have both scored 20+ points in the same game. One of the previous five? When the Bulls last faced Sacramento. Markkanen had 20 points and seven rebounds in that victory, a game Bagley also didn’t appear in.

Per Cleaning the Glass, in a limited sample size with both Bagley and Holmes off the floor, the Kings’ allow a suboptimal 111.1 points per 100 possessions and 70.4% shooting at the rim. Get Markkanen on the move and attacking Sacramento’s slow-footed bigs, and we could see another solid outing.

*In my best Jim Mora voice* Playoffs?!

It pains me to even write this (for fear of raising hopes), but with the Nets’ loss to the Lakers last night, the Bulls are somehow only 2.5 games back of the eighth seed in the East.

If a postseason appearance remains a goal for this team — and by all accounts it does — the three-game stretch they’re currently on is pivotal. Between Minnesota (seven), Sacramento (six) and Cleveland (seven) on Saturday, the Bulls have the fortune of facing the teams with the three longest losing streaks in the NBA to close this week out. 

Come Monday, the race for the playoffs could very well be a storyline, even in spite of the team’s current 4-8 record in January. The most pressing implications of that would be on the organization's rationale at the upcoming trade deadline. But, of course, no win is guaranteed with this team — if nothing else, this one will undoubtedly be competitive.

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against Kings


Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against Kings

Oh yeah, it's the Bulls and Kings tonight on NBC Sports Chicago! Coverage starts at 6:30 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. Lottery implications?

Let's be honest: the Bulls and Kings aren't going anywhere this season. The Bulls have lost seven straight and own the league's worst point differential and the Kings are giving significant minutes to 36-year-old Zach Randolph and 40-year-old Zach Randolph. Fun players and we're glad to still see them in action, but the Warriors aren't really looking over their shoulders. Sacramento owns the second worst record in the West (Dallas) and the Bulls are worst in the East. A loss is good for both these squads, but they've played tough: the Kings just knocked off the Steph-and-KD-less Warriors.

2. But there's young talent everywhere!

Hey, just becuase both teams would rather take L's than W's these days doesn't mean there's no reason to watch. Both sides tout really special young talent, starting with Sacramento's De'Aaron Fox. The latest graduate of John Calipari's School of Point Guards, Fox is averaging 8.3 points, 3.2 assists and 1.3 steals in his last six games (five starts). Then there's Lauri Markkanen, who was selected two spots after Fox in June's NBA Draft. Willie Cauley-Stein, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn all make this a game to watch of what the future could hold for both squads.

3. Another back-to-back for the Bulls

Back-to-backs haven't been great for the Bulls this season, as they're 0-3 in the second halves of those sets. Most recently they lost by 30 in Utah, although it helps that this time they'll be at home: they took the Pelicans to overtime at home in their first back-to-back of the year, and two of their three wins this season have come at the United Center. Sacramento hasn't played since Tuesday, so you can bet they'll be rested and ready to roll after getting thumped at home by Giannis and the Bucks.

2017 NBA Draft Profile: Kentucky PG De'Aaron Fox

2017 NBA Draft Profile: Kentucky PG De'Aaron Fox

As part of our coverage leading up to the 2017 NBA Draft we will provide profiles of more than 30 of the draft's top prospects.

De'Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky

6'4" | 171 lbs. | 19 years old

2016-17 stats:

16.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 24.6% 3FG


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