Keys to the Game: Bulls at Wizards (10.21.22)

The Bulls are visiting our nation’s capital to take on the Washington Wizards in the first of four seasons. Chicago won the series 3-0 last year and won 10 of the last 13.

Both the Bulls and Wizards opened the 2022-23 season on the road Wednesday, with Chicago leading with a 116-108 win over the Heat in Miami and Washington beating the Indiana Pacers 114-107 in Indy.

Tonight is the first of 13 back-to-backs for Chicago as the Bulls hint at their home game schedule against the Cleveland Cavaliers tomorrow night at the United Center.

As for tonight against the Wizards, here are a few things to keep an eye on (6:30pm CST tip – NBC Sports Chicago):

DeMar dribbles

DeMar DeRozan once again proved that age is just a number as Chicago’s second-oldest player (33) dropped 37 points and led the Bulls to an 8-point win over last year’s Eastern Conference No. 1.

During the just-concluded preseason, DeRozan looked in midseason form from the start, and nothing changed at South Beach as he hit 14 of 22 shots, including 2 of 3 three-pointers and seven of 11 free throws. Last year’s ‘King of Fourths’ took charge a little early this time, scoring 19 points in the third quarter as the Bulls broke a 59-59 half-time tie and led 96-86 in the final 12 minutes, rarely having to watch the rest back at night.

Look for more of the same tonight against Washington. Last year against Washington, DeRozan averaged 25 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists while hitting the free throw line 7.6 times. The 13-year-old vet is a nightmare for most, but especially for DC as they honestly have no one to stop him. Deni Avdija is a hardened worker player and Washington’s top defenseman, but the third-year forward not only sprained an ankle midway through the opening quarter and sat out the rest of the night in Indiana, but he’s also struggling with a nagging groin injury in the back last weeks. Avdija, as persistent as he is at 100%, is still unable to stop DeRozan, so how do you think he will fare at 70% tonight?

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Drummond says Shhh

Since training camp opened, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan has been preaching the importance of moving the ball and getting everyone involved on offense. Chicago did a solid job of ensuring the ball didn’t stay in anyone’s hands for too long in Miam the other day. The Bulls finished the game with 23 assists from 41 baskets made as five of the nine players who saw the ground hit double digits on shot attempts. Tonight, and every night in the future, how effectively Chicago free-splits and attacks the rim will be a major factor in whether or not the Bulls have a chance to come out on top at the end of the night.

Another important aspect will be finding offense behind the arch. Without the help of two-time All-Star Zach LaVine, who sat out with a creaking knee, the Bulls attempted 36 3s and hit 13. Last year Chicago attempted 36 or more just six times. LaVine, ranked #3 in franchise history in Made Treys, may not play again tonight, but the Bulls still need to shoot from long range to keep the defense honest.

Dosunmu guards Jimmy

Defensively, one of the most important factors between winning and losing in the NBA is color control. This has been a chronic weakness of bulls for far too long. Miami has outplayed Chicago 48-32 in the paint, including recording 15 second-chance results for the Bulls’ 11. Teams that consistently hit deep playoff runs are the ones that dominate the game under the basket and aren’t ashamed to be physical. Despite losing the fight in the paint, the Bulls never physically relented against Miami, and that went a long way toward winning the game. Pound for pound, Chicago aren’t a physically formidable team, but they do have plenty of defensive strength in the likes of Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu, Javonte Green, Patrick Williams and Andre Drummond. They need to tap into that pool against the Wiz tonight as they often try to get most of their points on the edge. Against the Pacers, 58 of Washington’s 114 points came from the paint.

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