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Bulls vs. Wizards game preview and open thread

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Bulls back in underdog role

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

[Thanks to HinrichtoZipser for today’s game preview. We need one tomorrow if anybody is interested -yfbb]

Bulls at Washington Wizards, 2:30 Central, NBCSChicago

The Washington Wizards enter today’s game with a record of 20-16, good for 6th place in the East. The Wizards have been a slight disappoint this season, as pundits expected them to battle for a top 3 seed in the Eastern conference. Still, this team has a lot of talent and it will be a challenge for the upstart Bulls to continue their winning ways.

Let’s take a look at the projected lineups:

Wizards:

Point Guard: John Wall 18.8 PPG, 8.7 APG
Shooting Guard: Bradley Beal 22.9 PPG, 3.4 APG
Small Forward: Otto Porter 14.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG
Power Forward: Markieff Morris 10.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG
Center: Marcin Gortat 8.7 PPG, 8.8 RPG
Bench - Satoransky, Meeks, Oubre, Scott, Mahinmi

Bulls:
Point Guard: Jerian Grant (if Dunn can’t go) 8.7 PPG, 5.1 APG
Shooting Guard: Justin Holiday 13.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG
Small Forward: Denzel Valentine 9.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG
Power Forward: Lauri Markkanen 14.7 PPG, 7.4 RPG
Center: Robin Lopez 12.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG

Bench - Nwaba, Zipser, Mirotic, Portis

The first nine minutes of each half will be a big test for the Bulls as they face Washington’s starters. Washington has a distinct advantage on the wing - Beal and Porter could have big games against the Bulls’ wings. Neither can be left open and Beal brings a fantastic all around offensive game. He’s a pure shooter who can run also run pick and roll. Give Otto Porter any space and he will let it fly, as Zho Qi and Ryan Anderson can attest to after the Rockets-Wizards game. Porter lit up the Rockets for 7 threes. A couple came from Wall’s penetration, a few were in transition, and he got a couple after the defenders backed off him. Bulls need to have a man on him every minute he is out there.

John Wall is going to give the Bulls problems today if Kris Dunn can’t go. He creates fast break opportunities when they seemingly aren’t there - he can start a fast break off made field goals. The Bulls will need to go under on every pick and roll and hope that Wall does not have a good shooting game. He was 2-5 on his jumpers in the competitive portion of the Rockets game, but he is lethal when he is allowed to get to the hole. It’s either a bucket for him or an open 3 for the Wizards’ talented 3 point shooters. For Jerian Grant, expect a bevy of step back jumpers sprinkled amidst solid team play.

The Bulls look to have an advantage in the front court. Gortat still starts for Washington, but perhaps to the detriment of their team. He certainly has skill and size, but how has he adjusted to the NBA? His numbers have been decreasing and he seems to clog up the middle for Wizards. He can be an effective partner for John Wall in the pick and roll game and he is a solid rebounder, but the Wizards were definitely playing better with him off the court in the Rockets game. Gortat only received 19 minutes versus the Rockets so it will be something to keep an eye on. The Bulls must attack him in pick and roll. The key factor will be which coach blinks first - who will go to their smaller and more effective lineups first?

Morris will be a good test for Markkanen. The Arizona product is coming off his best game as a pro after torching the Pacers for 32 points. Markkanen will have the height advantage, but Morris will not be easy to post up. Markkanen will have to guard Morris out to the perimeter. The Bulls should look to get Lauri involved early to build on Friday’s success.

Key Questions

How will injuries affect the game?

- If Kris Dunn can’t go for the Bulls, it will be a major blow to their defense against Wall. For the Wizards, Beal and Morris were both favoring their arms during Friday’s win against the Rockets. Both continued to play but it may have an impact on today’s game. Mike Scott will be back for the Wizards after missing the last game to witness the birth of his daughter.

How will the bench play affect the game?

  • The Bulls will look to make up for the talent deficiency of the starting lineup with stellar bench play. Mirotic and Portis should be able to get open looks for 3’s against Ian Mahinmi. In the Bulls last game, Denzel Valentine was somewhat effective running pick and pops with Mirotic. He was forced into backup point guard duty with Dunn’s injury.
  • The Bulls should not leave Jody Meeks open and they should be reticent to leave Kelly Oubre open. Oubre is averaging a career high 11.8 points per game with 37.9 % shooting on 3 pointers. Meeks is only shooting 31 % this year from 3, but he is at 37 % from his career.
  • The Wizards were a surprising +15 without Beal and Wall on the court at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters. There was some definite luck involved as a few threes came off of offensive rebounds, but Tomas Satoransky was really pushing the ball in his best John Wall impersonation. He also completely baptized Zho Qi with a slam in the second quarter.

Can the Bulls limit John Wall in transition?

- The Bulls will need to get back on D and make their jumpers if they want to win this game. Wall is an expert and creating fast breaks and he can score 1 on 4 if he needs to. The Wizards looked ultra aggressive against the Rockets and were coming up with steals. They also gave the Rockets plenty of 3 point opportunities (48 to be exact), but the Rockets weren’t able to make them pay at a high percentage (The Rockets shot 29% and were coming off a back to back).

Which team will play harder?

- The Bulls are at home for this afternoon tilt and they will hopefully still be locked in due to their winning ways. The Wizards have a habit of playing down to their opponent, so it wouldn’t be the most shocking thing in the world if they beat the Rockets and then lose to the Bulls. It’s also New Year’s Eve - hopefully the distractions will hurt the Wizards more than the Bulls.

Will the Bulls continue to play with pace and will the hot shooting continue?

The Bulls have been playing fast and the team is coming off a record tying 3 point performance against the Pacers. The team looks like they’re having fun playing together and they have come up with some beautiful passes. The front court has been spectacular lately - Lopez, Markkanen, Mirotic and Portis have made it difficult to determine who should sit - a good problem to have. If the Bulls close with Mirotic and Markkanen, Scott Brooks should deploy a lineup with Morris at center. They are a plus 23.2 per 100 possessions when they play a lineup of Wall-Beal-Porter-Oubre-Morris (Small sample size, but this is a lineup that I don’t want to see). They can switch a lot easier without Gortat and Mahinmi clogging things up. We’ll see if Markkanen, Mirotic, or Portis can take advantage of having a small on them.

-Go Bulls and Happy New Year!