The first week of the new year could very well make or break the Bulls 2016-2017 season, as they enter the new year reeling from a dismal December, the schedule this week is daunting.
The Bulls, who enter the week at 16-18, will have no easy road ahead of them to start the 2017 portion of their schedule as they will take on the Charlotte Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers and the Toronto Raptors this week.
Lets take a look at the Bulls upcoming match-ups this week, and hear what the writers who cover the upcoming opponents have to say about their team’s bout with the Bulls.
Chicago Bulls (16-18) vs Charlotte Hornets (19-15) – Monday 1/2/17 – United Center, Chicago, IL
The Bulls will kick off their week with a home date with the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 19-15 record, and lead the season series 1-0. The Bulls lost to the Hornets on December, 23, 103-91 in Charlotte. Here’s my preview, as well as a little Hornets insight from Quinn Everts of At the Hive, the Hornets home on the SB Nation Network and Jerry Stephens III of Swarm and Sting, the Hornets home on the FanSided Network.
Bulls Keys to Victory: Michael Carter-Williams will have his work cut out for him on Monday, tasked with guarding Kemba Walker, who is averaging 22 points per game, and shooting an impressive 40 percent from beyond the three point arc, MCW will have to ensure that Walker doesn’t get going from three-point land for the Bulls to have a chance.
The Hornets rank third in the NBA with 36.5 defensive rebounds per game, that doesn’t bode well for the Bulls poor offensive output, Robin Lopez and Taj Gibson both need to have outstanding performances on the glass to create second chance opportunities for the Bulls.
Bulls Player to Watch: Micheal Carter-Williams – Williams will have the most important assignment on Monday night, in only his second start of the season. The Bulls chances for a victory will hinge on MCW on Monday night.
Game Prediction: The Hornets may be the most beatable team of their three opponents this week, but I’m feeling like the Bulls will still lose to the Hornets.
Hornets Keys to Victory: (Quinn Everts)Three-point defense. The Bulls are last in the NBA in three point field goal percentage, but the Hornets have suffered bad defense against the long ball multiple times, and it doesn’t seem to really matter who they’re playing against. Brooklyn (26th in 3pt%) went 15-31 from behind the arc against Charlotte a few nights ago, so making sure players like Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott don’t get open looks should be something Steve Clifford drills into his guys’ heads.
Take smart shots. The Bulls average the second-least amount of fouls per game in the league (behind Charlotte), so it will be hard to get to the free throw line. Shot selection is key, because free-throws most likely won’t be much of a factor.
(Jerry Stephens III) A major key for the Hornets is to defend the three-point line. They have not done a great job of doing so over their last few losses. Luckily for them, the Bulls are the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA so it shouldn’t be too difficult. Still, for Charlotte to have their best chance at winning, a solid defensive effort on the perimeter will help them out immensely. In their last two losses, they have allowed more than 14 three’s. Not a good sign for a team coached by Steve Clifford who is known for being a great defensive coach.
Game Prediction: (Quinn Everts) I think the Hornets bounce back from the loss to the Cavs, and win 107-97.
(Jerry Stephens III) I predict that the Charlotte Hornets will defeat the Chicago Bulls, 105-97. It will be a close affair between these two sides but I think the Hornets are more consistent and the Bulls’ “problem”, if you can call it that, with Rondo and the starting point guard position gives them uncertainty heading into this one.
Chicago Bulls (16-18) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (24-7) – Wednesday 1/4/17 – Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio
The Bulls will head to Cleveland to visit King James and company on Wednesday evening. The Bulls lead the season series 1-0 after knocking off the Cavs’ on December 2, 111-105.
Bulls Keys to Victory: The Cavs’ are leading the Eastern Conference by a healthy margin once again, and scoring 110 points per contest, good for fourth in the league. The Bulls will have to muster up one of their best offensive performances of the year to match the Cavaliers scoring abilities, and a defensive performance equally impressive.
Bulls Player to Watch: Jimmy Butler – Butler regularly leads the charge for the Bulls offense, and Wednesday night will be no different. In addition to guarding LeBron James all night, Butler will have to turn in an exceptional offensive performance. Butler will have to put on a signature two-way performance like he usually does versus King James in order for the Bulls to win.
Game Prediction: While no matter how bad the Bulls seem to be playing, they always tend to play above their abilities against their best opponents. Not on Wednesday though, the Bulls have already swiped a win from the Cavs’ this season, this one will be a Cavaliers victory.
Cavaliers Key to Victory: The Cavs have received consistent, and excellent, contributions from LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving this season. It’s hard to see that changing, but the team lacks depth all over the roster. DeAndre Liggins has come out of nowhere to be a capable shooting guard with the starters. He plays defense and you can’t leave him wide open from three. Tristan Thompson is a bit more capable than Liggins offensively, and is having his best defensive season yet, but the Cavs really ask a lot from James, Love, and Irving offensively. If two of the three play well, it’ll be tough for the Bulls to win.
Chicago Bulls (16-18) vs Toronto Raptors (22-10) – Saturday 1/7/17 – United Center, Chicago, IL
The Bulls close out their three game schedule this week with a match-up with the Toronto Raptors, who are currently second in the Eastern Conference. This will be the two teams first meeting of the season. Here’s my take on the Bulls meeting with the Cavs’, as well as a Cavaliers insider look at the match-up thanks to David Zavac of Fear the Sword, the Cavaliers home on the SB Nation Network.
Bulls Keys to Victory: The last time the Bulls and the Raptors met each other shortly after New Year’s Day, Jimmy Butler scored 40 points in the second half as the Bulls upset Toronto for the come-from-behind victory on 1/3/16.
If the Bulls want to defeat the Raptors on Saturday night, the Bulls will have to challenge the Raptors on the ball and prevent them from getting any open looks. The Raptors rank fifth in the NBA in field goal percentage, and third in the NBA in three point field goal percentage. If the Raptors can create space against the Bulls defenders it will be a long day at the office.
Bulls Player to Watch: Dwyane Wade – D-Wade will have his most difficult assignment of the year on Saturday night, matching up with Raptors star DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan is averaging a whopping 27.4 points per game, nearly 10 points higher than his career average. DeRozan is also averaging five boards and four assists to date, and his defense hasn’t been to shabby either, averaging a little more than a steal per contest. The veteran Bulls guard Wade, will have his hands full all evening long.
Game Prediction: The Raptors, much like the Cavs’ are just too good, too fast, and too strong for the Bulls to keep up with. The Bulls lack the depth necessary to match the Raptors scorers, and will lose on Saturday night as well.
If my predictions come to fruition, which believe me I hope they don’t, the Bulls will close out the first week of the new year sitting at 16-21, staring down a meeting with the Oklahoma City Thunder next Monday night. This week will be a significant week for the Bulls, and it may not be in a good way.