Analysis

Bulls Weekly Preview: January 23, 2016

The Chicago Bulls enter the week sitting at 22-23, clinging to the eighth seed in the postseason picture in the Eastern Conference, just a game ahead of the Detroit Pistons entering play on Monday.

The Bulls will have a four game week, including match-ups with the Magic on the road before they begin a home-stand with visits from the Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, and the Philadelphia 76ers this week.

Check out our preview of this week’s action, along with opposing insights from writers who cover the Bulls opponents for the week.

Chicago Bulls (22-23) vs Orlando Magic (18-28) – Tuesday 1/24/17, Amway Center, Orlando, FL

The Bulls will kick off their week with a visit to the Amway Center in Orlando for a date with the Magic, check out my preview, as well as some Magic insight courtesy of Philip Rossman-Reich of the Orlando Magic Daily.

Bulls Keys to Victory: The Bulls will need to contain a solid duo of Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon on Tuesday night in Orlando, the two have led the Magic to their first stretch of consistent play in some time.

The Bulls and the Magic match up pretty evenly despite their differing records, so the key to this one for the Bulls is going to be a hot start. Head Coach Fred Hoiberg has struggled to put together his rotations, and is even worse when he shuffles his rotations after a sluggish start. Keep the tempo up, and keep Jimmy Butler involved.

Bulls Player to Watch: Jimmy Butler is the catalyst on this team, and will need to pace the Bulls to a strong start to the game, or face another uphill battle on the road. Give Jimmy the ball, and let him work with some fresh legs on two nights of rest.

Game Prediction: The Bulls are a bad road team, so I’m going with the Magic in a squeaker, 98-95 on Tuesday night.

Magic Keys to Victory: The big thing for the Orlando Magic is probably the simplest thing. They need to defend with some physicality and stick to their defensive principles. Or at least their ideal defensive principles.

The Magic have struggled on that end since early December and have not become the team many thought they would. Especially with the talent they have had.

Of late, Orlando has played better defense. Or at least played defense better than they have before. It is still not great.

The Magic have been fighting for some consistency. It has been the team’s biggest struggle. And it is something they still struggle with a ton. But the last two games have seen the Magic play better and things seem to be trending back in a good direction. For now.

Magic Player to Watch: Elfrid Payton is starting to emerge as a consistent point guard option for the Magic of late. And this team is just searching for some consistency.

Payton is averaging  20.2 points per game and 7.4 assists per game in his last five games. He is shooting 52.1 percent from the floor in that time too. It is a big step forward for Payton and a measure of consistency.

There are few players that seem to be a barometer for this inconsistent Magic team than Payton. He is the key to their ultimate success.

Game Prediction: The Chicago Bulls have had their fair share of struggles of late. Like the Magic, they have kind of been dealing with inconsistency and uncertainty with their roster. Having Jimmy Butler is a nice consolation to make things a bit better.

Orlando is playing a bit better of late and seemed to have turned a corner of sorts. They can pick off some struggling teams, like the Milwaukee Bucks from Friday. If Aaron Gordon can check Jimmy Butler, the Magic have a good chance to sneak out a win.

Magic 102, Bulls 100

Chicago Bulls (22-23) vs Atlanta Hawks (26-18) – Wednesday 1/25/17, United Center, Chicago, IL

The Bulls and the Hawks will hook up this week for a rematch of their bout this past Friday evening, one in which the game was over for the Bulls after the first quarter. The Hawks jumped out to a 35-13 lead, and never looked back.

The loss was so bad, that Dwyane Wade actually tweeted an apology to the fans for the clunker of a performance. Here’s my view on the game, as well as a Hawks perspective from Brad Rowland of Peachtree Hoops and Dime Magazine.

Bulls Keys to Victory: The Bulls were simply outclassed in their last meeting with the Hawks, and will need to do a few things very different if they wish to have a better showing less than a week later.

The Bulls need to play better defense on Wednesday evening, and not allow the Hawks to shoot a stifling 53 percent like they did last week. In addition to playing better on-ball defense and limiting good looks for the Hawks, the Bulls need to contain Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder, who torched them on Friday night, scoring 25 points while recording six assists, three rebounds and a steal.

Bulls Player to Watch:  Dwyane Wade felt so strongly about the shellacking that the Bulls suffered at the hands of the Hawks last week, that he tweeted an apology to the fans after the game for the dismal performance. If you’re going to do that, and then have another shot at that team five days later, you’d better be ready to redeem yourself. Look for Wade to make good on his apology on Wednesday night.

Game Prediction:  The Atlanta Hawks are just a much better basketball team than the Bulls, the convincing win last week wasn’t by luck or coincidence, it was a true measure of the two teams. Hawks roll to a 105-90 victory in Chicago on Wednesday night.

Hawks Keys to Victory: Atlanta needs to hold its own on the glass, as Chicago has been dominant in this area throughout the year. With Dwight Howard in the middle, the Hawks have been much improved in both aspects of rebounding, but keeping the Bulls off the offensive boards, and keeping Chicago to one possession will be vastly important.

Hawks Player to Watch: Paul Millsap is the easy answer, simply because he’s the best player on the roster, and always the focal point. In this match-up, though, I’ll say Thabo Sefolosha. Keeping Jimmy Butler in check is paramount and Sefolosha is the best bet that Atlanta possesses in order to do that. He is an unheralded player but one that is extremely valuable that everything the Hawks do defensively.

Game Prediction: Given that Chicago is playing at home, I think this is going to be a barn-burner. The Hawks are slightly better in my mind, but home court evens that out and I’ll say that we’ll see a five-point game (or less) in either direction. Flip a coin on this one.

Chicago Bulls (22-23) vs Miami Heat (14-30) – Friday 1/27/17, United Center, Chicago, IL

The Bulls and the Miami Heat will meet up for the third time this season, with the Bulls the winners of their first two meetings on the campaign. Here’s my look at the game, as well as a Miami Heat view from Wes Goldberg of All you Can Heat.

Bulls Keys to Victory: There’s few teams less impressive than the Bulls this season, but the Heat are one of them for sure. The Bulls have been able to beat the Heat a pair of times already this season, and should be able to do so again as long as they contain Goran Dragic. Dragic has been on a tear as of late, and the Bulls will need to keep him under wraps and control the tempo.

Bulls Player to Watch:  Michael Carter-Williams can be an menacing on-ball defender at the point guard position, he will have his work cut out for him defending a red-hot Goran Dragic against the Heat, so the Bulls success in this game will hinge on MCW’s ability to contain Dragic.

Game Prediction: The Bulls will likely get thrashed by the Hawks, and usually perform well for some reason after getting beat badly. The Heat are one of the few teams more lost than the Bulls, so I see the Bulls pulling out a victory, 95-87.

Heat Keys to Victory: Make things difficult for Jimmy Butler: The last time these teams met, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade outscored Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside 59-41. Miami cannot allow that large of a discrepancy.

Win the bench: If Miami can close the gap among the starters, Tyler Johnson and James Johnson should provide an advantage for the second unit.
Don’t foul: The Bulls are one of the best teams in the league at drawing fouls. Don’t bite on the pump fake Wade honed in Miami, and don’t give Butler easy points.

Heat Player to Watch: Goran Dragic has been on a rampage, playing at an All-Star level since December. He averaged 26 points and 5.3 assists through Miami’s recent three-game win streak. The Heat should have a big advantage at the point guard position.

Game Prediction:The Heat lost both games to the Bulls by a combined eight points, so it should be close. But Miami’s had a tough run of injuries and, even if they didn’t, not a lot of talent. You won’t see me predicting a Heat win this season.

Chicago Bulls (22-23) vs Philadelphia 76ers (15-27) – Sunday 1/29/17, United Center, Chicago,IL

The Bulls round out their week with a home date with the 76ers at the United Center on Sunday night, here’s my preview of the contest as well as a 76ers look at things from Josh Wilson of The Sixer Sense.

Bulls Keys to Victory: The process, Joel Embiid has been doing all that he can to pull the 76ers out of the cellar in the Eastern Conference, and the Bulls will need a big game from Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez to slow down the process on Sunday night at the United Center.

Bulls Player to Watch: Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez have been the force behind the Bulls tremendous rebounding numbers, and will need to control the paint on Sunday night against Embiid and the Sixers for a Bulls victory.

Game Prediction: The Bulls will get the victory on Sunday night, 95-84.

76ers Keys to Victory: The main key to a Sixers victory — and this holds true for all of their recent victories — would be for the team to be strong defensively. The Bulls haven’t really proven this year that they can be a threat with high scoring, but on any given night, they do have the tools to have a random explosion of points.

The Sixers are going to need to make sure they can stop that from happening. Another big key that may be a bit less important is getting Joel Embiid involved — assuming he plays, the Sixers don’t play him in both games of back-to-back games, and this would be the first of a back-to-back for them — on both ends of the floor. The Sixers have understood this all year, and he has anchored their defense as well as been a focal point of their offense. Although the Sixers have won games without him, it’s been difficult, and it’s clear that he is a very valuable and transformative piece of this team.

76ers Player to Watch: While most people, as with any game, will say to look for Embiid (and be sure to watch him, too, he’s great) I’m more curious about what Dario Saric and T.J. McConnell will be doing. Saric is playing really well for a rookie, and would be a serious consideration for Rookie of the Year if his teammate wasn’t blowing that award running out of the water.

He’s improved a ton on defense especially, and doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s been able to do in big wins for the Sixers. McConnell is a player that is counted out repeatedly and often looked at as a player that never should have been in the NBA, but he’s been quite good as of late, recently winning over the starting point guard slot. He’s a nuisance on defense and will be troublesome for opposing point guards, and can create crafty passes on offense as well.

Game Prediction: While I would like to say the Sixers would walk away from this one with a win — and their recent success and the Bulls’ falling apart as of late suggests they have a good chance — the structure of their schedule is not in their favor.

The Sixers have a busy week, with games on Wednesday, Friday, and then Sunday against the Bulls (before they’re back at it again on Monday). They have to face Milwaukee on the road on Wednesday, and then come home only to go right back to the Great Lakes Region for their game against the Bulls. It’s not ideal, and the Bulls’ three-game homestead leading up to the Sixers game will prove to be a huge advantage. Bulls win 98-92.

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