Can the Bulls Bounce Back? Locking in on Defense, Turning to Small Ball, and Other Bulls Bullets

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Can the Bulls Bounce Back? Locking in on Defense, Turning to Small Ball, and Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

I’m not mad … I’m just … Nope. Forget it. I’m pretty mad.

The more I think about tonight’s matchup against the Utah Jazz, the more irked I am about Monday night’s ghastly first half. The Sacramento Kings had won just two of their nine games since the All-Star break, and they were currently stuck on a four-game losing streak. With the Eastern Conference in the middle of a full-blown bar brawl, it was a prime opportunity for the Bulls to get in an easy punch. Instead, they chose not to swing until a couple of bottles were smashed on their head. It was too late.

Now, they travel beaten and bummed to one of the tougher places to play in the NBA. Perhaps Monday night’s affair ignites the kind of fire they need to finish the rest of the regular season strong, but starting that process against Donovan Mitchell and Co. will be a lot easier said than done.

•   Utah is one of the most well-rounded squads in the NBA. Not only do they carry gobs of postseason experience, but they have the kind of on-court familiarity and chemistry that Arturas Karnisovas can only dream of right now. Behind the ever-improving offensive game of Donovan Mitchell and the brick-wall rim-protection of Rudy Gobert, they hold a top-3 Net Rating for the second season in a row. They may not be as dominant as they were during the 2020-21 regular season, but there is no question they can look the part on any given night. The Bulls have to hope that (as we saw back on October 30th) tonight isn’t one of those nights.

•   The Bulls welcomed the Jazz into the United Center for their sixth game of the season. This marked the new-look roster’s first real challenge against a league elite, and I think any first-grade teacher would have given them a gold star. Utah shot just 38.0 percent from the field and scored 99 points. They coughed up the ball 20 times compared to the Bulls’ 9, leading to a 25-8 advantage in the points-off-turnovers battle for Chicago. All things considered, it was one of the Bulls’ better wins of the season, but we’d all be silly to expect that same Jazz team to show up tonight.

•   The fact of the matter is the Jazz aren’t going to shoot 38.0 percent from the field again. An offensive performance like that is about as out of character as Elmo lighting a joint with Big Bird (though, we all know Big Bird can hang). They are arguably the most efficient shooting team in the NBA, averaging a league-best 56.1 effective field goal percentage a night, per Cleaning the Glass. Utah shoots the second-most 3-point attempts per game, and they convert at the 8th-highest rate in the league. Meanwhile, the dribble-drive ability of Mitchell helps establish a presence at the rim that has led to Utah shooting the 5th-most free-throw attempts per game. Inside or out … it will take a collective effort to contain this explosive offense.

•   If there is one spot for the Bulls to exploit, it would be Utah’s knack for high turnover nights. The team averages the 12th-most TOVs per game, and they also fork over the 8th-most points off TOVs. Chicago was able to take full advantage of this sloppiness in their first meeting, winning the TOV battle 20-9 and outscoring the Jazz on points off TOVs 25-8.

•   Of course, a helping hand in this department will not be on the floor tonight for Chicago. Lonzo Ball had an excellent defensive showing back in October, scooping up 4 steals while he and Caruso made life difficult along the perimeter. Rewatching the turnovers this morning, however, I think the Bulls still can give the Jazz some fits with their all-around athleticism. A bulk of the Jazz’s turnovers in the first meeting came thanks to the Bulls being in the right place at the right time. They rotated well and angled themselves in passing lanes to force some errant throws. Sending a house of active hands-on drives to the rim also didn’t hurt. Having Mike Conley back for this game should help Utah avoid catastrophe, but let’s hope the Bulls can still play a similarly smart defensive game.

•   Let’s also hope we see some Derrick Jones Jr. small-ball five action! I’ve talked about wanting Donovan to turn more to the lengthy high-flyer in recent weeks, and there might be no better time than tonight. As fantastic as Gobert is on the defensive end, we all know what can happen when he’s forced to guard along the perimeter. He’s been exposed numerous times in the past – most notably by the Clippers in last year’s playoffs – when teams have gone to ultra small-ball looks. The lineups force Gobert to either stay in the paint and leave a shooter open or leak out toward the perimeter only to likely get beat by ball-handlers. Deploy the DJJ!

•   Jason Patt at Forbes had a good write-up about LaVine’s upcoming contract situation. The supermax has been on the table all season long, but it could be slipping as LaVine’s knee issues take him out of All-NBA contention.

•   Speaking of LaVine, he provided us with one positive from Monday night.


•   Do you think Vooch is jealous?

•   Please just find Justin Fields another wide receiver.

•   The Cubs keep adding …

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Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.