Another Must-Win Battle, Two Struggling Teams, Can LaVine Do It Again? And Other Bulls Bullets

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Another Must-Win Battle, Two Struggling Teams, Can LaVine Do It Again? And Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

Thanks to a loss on Thursday night that I prefer to lock in a box, set on fire, and bury 14ft into the earth’s surface, tonight’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers has become that much more important.

Both Cleveland and Toronto sit only one game behind the Bulls. Fortunately, due to a win over Toronto on March 21st, the Bulls claim the all-too-important tiebreaker advantage over the Raptors, and winning this evening would provide them the same over the pesky Cavaliers. Considering how tight the race continues to be with less than 10 games to go, it’s not out of the question this tiebreaker becomes the difference between sitting No. 5 or sitting No. 7 in April.

•   The Cavs and Bulls have experienced similar free-falls in recent weeks. Since the All-Star break, Cleveland holds just the 21st-best Net Rating in the league after holding the 7th-best mark over their first 58 games played. Defense has quickly become their main concern, as the injury to All-Star center Jarrett Allen has removed one of the NBA’s best rim-protectors from their starting lineup. They have now given up the 24th-most points per game since mid-February, and it’s been a big reason why they’ve dropped five of their last 14 games.

•   Chicago was able to take advantage of the Cavs’ sinking ship back on March 12th. Other than their victory against Toronto three games back, this was easily the best we’ve seen the Bulls play in recent weeks. Not only did they hold an opponent under 100 points for the first time since January, but we saw their offense dominate in transition with a 19-9 advantage in fastbreak points. Chicago also snatched 12 steals against this Cavs squad that has the 2nd-highest TOV% in the NBA. They simply out-ran and outworked this big lineup, and the recipe for success tonight needs to be the same.

•   It all starts on the defensive end for this Bulls team, and Alex Caruso will have a big-time assignment on Darius Garland. While he may have finished with 25 points the last time these two met, there is no question his inefficient 9-24 showing from the field went a long way toward making the night that much easier for the Bulls. Not to mention, the 22-year-old’s turnover problems were on full display as he coughed up the ball six times. Garland is the engine that makes this Cavs team go, especially with Allen off the floor. Shut him down, and it could have a significant domino effect.

•   Old friend Lauri Markkanen has found a late-season groove. Over the last six games, he has averaged 37.9 minutes per game while averaging roughly 18 points and 7 rebounds. He’s shot 43.2 percent from downtown and 53.0 percent from the field. The Cavs have needed him to play an increasing role on the offensive end, and he’s filled that role adequately as of late. Chicago’s defense has had some real issues guarding sharpshooting wings this season, and we saw it against Markkanen in January as he scored 28 points (his second-highest scoring night of the year).

•   Zach LaVine may have come up short on Thursday night in New Orleans, but he did almost everything he could to put the Bulls in a position to succeed (I know … deja vu). He dropped a season-high 39 points in a relentless downhill effort that got him to the free-throw line for an 11-13 performance. All things considered, it was arguably the best LaVine has looked yet on his banged-up knee, but can we view that as a sign of what’s to come? The last time he played more than 37 minutes he had to sit out the next game. The good news is he isn’t on the injury report for tonight’s battle, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he looks a step slow after the heavy-lifting he did against the Pelicans.

•   The other good news is that DeMar DeRozan should return from his brief stint on the sideline. A groin injury kept him off the floor on Thursday night, but the Bulls have upgraded the team’s leading scorer to “probable” ahead of tonight.

•   Some nice background here on the Bulls’ new big man:

•   Some words on just how much has changed for Chicago …

•   I SEE YOU, TC!

•   Low risk, high reward?

Author: Elias Schuster

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