Chicago Bulls Weekly Preview: January 16, 2017

Back at .500, the Bulls will look to take advantage of the friendliest slate of opponents that they have seen in weeks.

The Bulls enter the week, back at the .500 mark, with a road date with the Hawks, sandwiched between two home tilts with the Mavericks and Kings, in what my be the easiest week of opponents that they have seen in the last three weeks.

With Butler fresh and regaining his legs after his illness last week, Wade back in the lineup after his scheduled day off on Sunday, and McDermott coming off of his best game of the season, the Bulls will look to gain some ground in the Eastern Conference playoff picture this week.

Chicago Bulls (21-21) vs Dallas Mavericks (12-27) – Tuesday 1/17/17 – United Center, Chicago, IL

The Bulls will kick off their week with a  home date with the Dallas Mavericks, the Bulls are 0-1 against the Mavericks this season. My preview of the game below, as well as a Mavericks outlook courtesy of Tim Cato, Editor-in-Chief at Mavs Moneyball.

Bulls Keys to Victory: The Bulls were able to hand the Mavericks a loss in their last meeting earlier this season rather easily, and shorthanded at that. Jimmy Butler scored 26 to carry a Bulls team missing both Dwyane Wade and Doug McDermott. With both Wade and McDermott in the lineup on Tuesday, the Bulls have to like their match-up.

The Bulls will need to take advantage of the three ball to keep pace with a Mavericks team that is loaded with shooters. With Doug McDermott coming off of his best game of the season on Sunday evening, Dwyane Wade with fresh legs, and Jimmy Butler fresh as well, the Bulls should be able to create shots outside of the perimeter, now they just have to make them, something easier said than done so far this season.

Bulls Player to Watch:  Doug McDermott will look to continue to stay hot, and build off of his season high in points on Sunday evening against the Grizzlies. McDermott has been playing very well in Bulls victories over the last couple of weeks, taking pressure off of Jimmy Butler, and will need to do so again on Tuesday night for a Bulls victory.

Game Prediction: I believe that the Bulls will win a close one with the Mavs’ on Tuesday, I’m going with 109-98 Chicago.

Mavericks Keys to Victory: The Mavericks let Jimmy Butler drop 26 points in the first match-up, but the Bulls were exhausted and missing Dwyane Wade and Doug McDermott. With those two in the lineup, the Mavericks have to limit Butler somewhat, because a big game from him with the added offensive weapons means that Dallas is going to be fighting to keep up.

Otherwise, the three-point line is huge. Chicago is terrible at shooting threes, and getting 5-10 extra points from made shots behind the arc adds up. Dallas has a roster full of shooters, and they’ll take 40-plus attempts if Chicago lets them. This is a bit obvious, but if Dallas hits seven or eight more threes than Chicago, I feel pretty good about their chances.

Mavericks Player to Watch: Wesley Matthews has been quiet all of January after a great December, and it feels like he’s due for a breakout game. He had his best move maybe since his injury on Sunday when he beat the Timberwolves defense going baseline and elevated for his first dunk of the season.

After the game, he was telling me how he saw Dirk get *his* first dunk on the previous road trip, and knew he had to get back even with him. Either way, Matthews is looking as healthy as ever and if he finds his shot again, that becomes enormous for the Dallas offense.

 Game Prediction: It won’t be a 25-point blowout like the first match-up. I’ll say the Bulls take this 102-98, with the Mavericks finally falling short in a close game, but I could see that score being flipped in Dallas’ favor pretty easily as well.

Chicago Bulls (20-21) vs Atlanta Hawks (24-7) – Friday 1/20/17 – Phillips Arena, Atlanta, GA

The Bulls will head to Atlanta to take on the Hawks on Friday night, the Bulls are 0-1 against the Hawks this season. Here are my keys to a Bulls win, as well as the Hawks keys to victory courtesy of Thomas Jenkins of Peachtree Hoops, the Atlanta Hawks home on the SB Nation Network.

Bulls Keys to Victory:  The Hawks have been hot to date in January, even after trading Kyle Korver to the Cavaliers, and coming into Friday night’s match-up with the Bulls at 24-7, the Bulls will have their work cut out for them. Without Korver though, the offense has lost it’s perimeter prowess, and that will put some strain on the Atlanta defense if the Bulls can shoot at a high percentage.

The Bulls will need Jimmy Butler be aggressive and create open shots for other shooters, and get to the line against a tough Hawks defense.

Bulls Player to Watch: The Bulls chances at a victory are going to hinge on Jimmy Butler‘s ability to create open shots for others, and take advantage of getting to the free-throw line on Friday night against the Hawks. We know that Butler is good for 20-25 points per night without a doubt, but look for him to have a solid night at the line, as well as in the assists department if the Bulls are victorious.

Game Prediction: Atlanta is a tough defensive team, and the Bulls, outside of Butler, have not been a great shooting team this season. I see the Hawks taking this one, 95-84 on Friday night.

Hawks Key to Victory: The Hawks have played very well in the calendar year so far by excelling on defense. Keeping up a strong performance on that end of the court will be very important on Friday night. I would say this is the first key to the game for Atlanta, since they’ve been up and down defensively all season.

There are signs that their recent performances are sustainable, but I need to see a few more strong games from that end of the floor before I’m fully convinced. If there’s a second key to this game, it’s outside shooting. Atlanta has struggled from this part of the court all season (something Bulls fans can probably relate to), and losing Kyle Korver (really their only consistent 3-point threat) has only made this worse. Not being able to score consistently makes the team’s defensive effort even more important, so these two elements definitely effect each other.

Hawks Player to Watch: Dennis Schroder is the best player to watch for. While Paul Millsap is easily Atlanta’s most important player as a whole, he can be counted on to play consistently well every night. Schroder has started to look more consistent as the season goes on, but has also been wildly erratic at times (and had a very poor start to the year).

If Schroder can play as a league-average point guard — something he easily does on his best nights — the Hawks have a much higher ceiling. Atlanta also only has two point guards on the roster, meaning that Schroder’s performance on a night-to-night basis is important from a depth standpoint as well.

 Game Prediction: I’ll cautiously predict that the Hawks win this game. They’ve been very good over the past two weeks, but most of these games have come against mediocre teams so I don’t want to let that influence me too much. For me, the most important factor is that the game is in Atlanta.
I’ve seen how good Jimmy Butler is multiple times, and I would be much more worried about the Hawks’ ability to at least slow him down if the game were in Chicago. I will say this, though: a Bulls win wouldn’t shock me at all. I’m still not sure how good the Hawks actually are, and there’s still plenty of time for them to either put together a good season or fall apart down the stretch.

Chicago Bulls (20-21) vs Sacramento Kings (16-23) – Saturday 1/21/17 – United Center, Chicago, IL

The Bulls close out their three game schedule this week with a match-up with the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls are taking on DeMarcus Cousins and company for the first time this season. Here’s my take, as well as a Kings take from Greg Wissinger, Editor at Sactown Royalty.

Bulls Keys to Victory: The Bulls will have their work cut out for them in the paint on Saturday night when DeMarcus Cousins comes to town. Cousins is a machine in the paint, and while the Bulls have been a stellar rebounding team all season long, it hasn’t been against the likes of Boogie Cousins to this point.

He is a different animal, who brings a different level of intensity and energy to the dynamic, and the Bulls big-men will need to have a solid game, limiting second chance points for the Kings, and cleaning up the glass on the offensive side of the ball as well.

Bulls Player to Watch: Taj Gibson has played big in big games this season, and he will have to display a high-energy performance on Saturday night. Robin Lopez will not be able to contain DeMarcus Cousins on his own, so look for Gibson to make an impact in the paint, helping Lopez contain Cousins.

Game Prediction: I’m going with a 103-92 win for the Bulls on Saturday night. Cousins is good, but that’s about it for the Kings offensive firepower, or lack thereof. If there was one team that I think the Bulls could out-shoot nowadays, it’s quite possibly the Kings.

Kings Keys to Victory: The Kings have struggled with slow starts all season, and have been torched from beyond the arc. If the Kings want to snap their current losing streak, they’ll need to get off to a good start and defend the three point line. 

Kings Player to Watch: Other than the obvious pick of DeMarcus Cousins, I’d keep an eye on Ty Lawson. He’s led the second unit with good energy and by attacking the basket. But he’s dealing with an ankle injury. It sounds like he’s expected to play, but he may be limited.

Game Prediction: Going to make a homer pick here. Kings 104, Bulls 99. This prediction is based on absolutely nothing. 

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