NBA

NBA Game of the Week: Bulls hunting first win over the Warriors since 2017

By Sports Desk December 01, 2022

The Golden State Warriors (11-11) have a golden opportunity to climb back above .500 when they host the 9-12 Chicago Bulls on Thursday.

Both teams entered the season with lofty expectations, but have sputtered out of the gates, struggling in areas they are meant to excel in.

With four championships since 2015, the Warriors have been widely regarded as the greatest shooting team the game has ever seen, but the underlying factor of their greatest years has always been their defense.

Boasting the league's best defensive efficiency in their 2014-15 championship season, second-best for their 2016-17 title, and 11th for their 2017-18 crown – the Warriors rediscovered their dominance on that end of the floor this past season to finish as the second-best defense en route to another ring.

That has cratered this campaign, with Golden State currently allowing 113.4 points per 100 possessions for the 21st-ranked defense.

What that means is that some of the Warriors' point totals from their eighth-ranked offense are going to waste, having scored over 110 points in seven of their 11 losses so far.

Meanwhile, the Bulls have committed to offensively-minded scorers DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Zach Lavine as their core trio, but currently own the 22nd-best offense.

In a clash between two sides struggling to establish an identity, the result could simply come down to which side's X-factor shows up – or more specifically, which one shoots the lights out.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors - Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson is a Warriors legend, a future Hall-of-Famer and one of the greatest shooters in the history of the NBA – but he has never been less efficient than he is right now.

However, when Thompson is feeling it this season, the Warriors win. Shooting 35.5 per cent from the field and 32.5 per cent from deep in losses, Thompson's numbers skyrocket to 43.7 per cent from the field and 44.7 per cent on three-pointers in the 10 wins he has played in.

Only the Boston Celtics score a higher percentage of their points from three-pointers (41.7 per cent) than the Warriors (41.2 per cent), so it makes sense that when their secondary sharpshooter catches fire, good things happen.

Chicago Bulls - Zach Lavine

While the Warriors rely on a heavy dose of three-pointers to put up their points, the Bulls are the opposite, leading the league in their percentage of points that come from the mid-range (14.6 per cent).

This is primarily due to DeRozan's affinity for the mid-range, and in turn, it leaves them 28th in the percentage of points that come from the three-point line (27.4 per cent).

To outgun the Warriors, you need to score big, and the Bulls' best bet to get hot from deep is Zach Lavine.

Making 2.8 threes per game, he is the only Bulls player averaging more than Coby White's 1.5, and his win/loss splits are eerily similar to Thompson's.

He is hitting 3.6 threes at 43.9 per cent in wins, and 2.1 threes at 26.4 per cent in losses, indicating his outsized importance and responsibility for the interior-heavy Bulls offense.

KEY BATTLE - Can the Bulls slow down the Warriors' ball movement?

While the Bulls' offense has been disappointing, their defense has actually been a pleasant surprise, climbing from the 23rd-ranked unit last season up to the 11th-best this time around.

Golden State's porous defense and second-highest pace in the league could provide a perfect environment for the Bulls to put up a big score, so it may come down to if they can force Stephen Curry to beat them by himself.

While Curry has been spectacular, averaging 31.4 points, the Warriors lead the league in assists per game at 29.7, so if the Bulls can figure out how to force the Warriors into isolations and restrict their quick passing, they can force the reigning champions to play the game out of their comfort zone.

 

HEAD-TO-HEAD

This will be the first meeting between the Warriors and Bulls this campaign after two fixtures in the 2021-22 season – resulting in two convincing Golden State wins.

The champions-in-waiting hammered the Bulls 119-93 last November, before following it up with a 138-96 thrashing in January, making it 10 consecutive victories against Chicago dating back to 2017.

Related items

  • Kyrie 'felt very disrespected' in Brooklyn Kyrie 'felt very disrespected' in Brooklyn

    Kyrie Irving "felt very disrespected" during his time with the Brooklyn Nets, he said after joining the Dallas Mavericks.

    Irving was traded by the Nets to the Mavericks after a tumultuous four years in Brooklyn.

    The eight-time All-Star joined the Nets alongside Kevin Durant in 2019, but the pair were unable to deliver success together.

    Injuries, along with Irving's absence as he was unvaccinated at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, limited the two superstars to only 71 starts together.

    Irving pushed for a trade ahead of Thursday's deadline and was granted his move to the Mavericks before explaining why he wanted to leave Brooklyn.

    "I just know I want to be places where I'm celebrated and not just tolerated or dealt with in a way that doesn't make me feel respected," he said.

    "There were times during this process where I was in Brooklyn and just felt very disrespected, my talent.

    "I work extremely hard at what I do; nobody ever talks about my work ethic, everyone talks about what I'm doing off the floor. I want to change that narrative, write my own story, continue to prepare in the gym, and now I'm in Dallas, control what I can control.

    "I'm always going to be close with those guys in Brooklyn, like I am with those guys in Boston, like I am with those guys in Cleveland.

    "It's a team competitive sport, but we care about each other's families way more off the court. I know those relationships will extend, I'm just preparing to win.

    "I'm not the person to really speak on names or go to someone behind their back and leak stuff to the media, that's never been me.

    "I've been an audience member seeing people say things about me that ultimately just fall off my shoulder. I'm in a place I'm grateful I got to grow into.

    "I spent time off the basketball court that gave me the time to appreciate life in a new way.

    "I know I need healthy boundaries. Especially in this entertainment business, there's a lot of disrespect that goes on with people's names and their families; I'm just not with it.

    "It's nothing personal against those guys in the front office, it's just what I'm willing to accept.

    "I took a chance and luckily the Dallas Mavericks picked me up. It's just all what I can control."

  • Heat trade Dedmon to Spurs, injury blow for Lowry Heat trade Dedmon to Spurs, injury blow for Lowry

    Dewayne Dedmon's time with the Heat is over after Miami traded the back-up centre to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday.

    The Spurs also receive a second-round pick in the 2028 draft, while the Heat got cash considerations, which gives the franchise financial flexibility.

    Dedmon is averaging 5.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in 30 games this season, but has only appeared in one contest since being ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct in a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on January 10.

    In that game, the 33-year-old argued with Heat coaches about playing time, feuded with team-mates and knocked a massage gun onto the court during play. He was suspended for one game by the Heat for his actions.

    He joins a San Antonio team that has the second-worst record in the Western Conference at 14-40, and this will be his second stint with the franchise after playing there in 2016-17.

    The 10-year veteran with career averages of 6.4 points and 5.8 rebounds has also played for the Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings.

    The Heat, who are atop the Southeast Division with a 29-25 record, move on without Dedmon, as well as Kyle Lowry for the foreseeable future.

    Lowry sat out Saturday's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks due to left knee soreness, and the Heat announced he will miss at least three more games.

    He will be re-evaluated next week, with Miami having just two more games before the All-Star break.

    The 17-year veteran missed three games in January due to left knee discomfort and he has struggled to find his shot since returning, averaging 5.6 points on 25 per cent shooting in his last five games.

    On the season, the 36-year-old is averaging 12 points – his lowest scoring average since averaging 11.6 points in 2012-13 for the Toronto Raptors.

  • Super Bowl LVII: The matchups that could decide the destination of the Lombardi Trophy Super Bowl LVII: The matchups that could decide the destination of the Lombardi Trophy

    American football, its exponents are often fond of saying, is the ultimate team sport. With victory requiring 46 players spread across offense, defense and special teams to perform as close to their best as possible and frequently contingent on telepathic understanding between players executing blocking schemes, route concepts, pass coverages and pressure packages, it is tough to find a flaw in their argument.

    In that sense, it is a contradiction that the quarterback position, being the most important for any team, commands so much of the attention. 

    Most of the focus will be on the signal-callers in Super Bowl LVII, and rightly so. Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts are making history in becoming the first black quarterbacks to face off in a Super Bowl in the Kansas City Chiefs' mouth-watering clash with the Philadelphia Eagles and are both candidates to win the MVP award on Thursday at the NFL Honors ceremony in Phoenix.

    While that pair of superstars will obviously have a mammoth part to play in deciding the winner of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, so often it is the game within the game in other areas that settles the NFL's showpiece.

    And there are several such granular contests that figure to have a substantial bearing on the outcome in Arizona. Here, Stats Perform digs into the numbers in examining three matchups that could decide Super Bowl LVII.

    Chris Jones vs. Isaac Seumalo and Jordan Mailata

    When the Chiefs have needed him most in the postseason, Chris Jones has typically delivered. Jones is in the curious position of being established as one the premier defensive linemen in the NFL but still arguably being underrated.

    While so much emphasis is placed on the offensive side of the Chiefs' Super Bowl LIV comeback four years ago, Jones was the man who ensured the San Francisco 49ers could not respond with the disruption he provided up front.

    In the AFC Championship Game this season, it was Jones – deployed off the edge rather than his familiar interior spot – who easily beat Cincinnati Bengals right tackle Hakeem Adeniji and brought Joe Burrow down for the key fourth-quarter sack that ended a prospective game-winning drive for the Bengals and gave the ball back to Mahomes to lead the Chiefs to a decisive field goal.

    Ranked third among all defensive linemen in his aggregate pass rush and run block win rate, Jones is a versatile force who has the talent to disrupt the best-laid plans of the Eagles.

    The Eagles rank first in pass block win rate and second in run block win rate, encapsulating the well-rounded nature of their ultra impressive offensive line. However, there are weaknesses, with right guard Isaac Seumalo (61.5 per cent) well below the 70.5 per cent pass block win rate average for his position and left tackle Jordan Mailata (74.3 per cent) only just above the NFL baseline of 72.9 per cent for his spot.

    As such, Jones will almost certainly see snaps on the interior where he lines up against Seumalo and others where he is one on one with Mailata. Their ability to hold their own against the best defensive player on the field will go a long way to determining whether the Eagles can justify their status as slight favourites.

    Travis Kelce vs. Avonte Maddox

    The trade of Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins ultimately did no damage to the Chiefs' status as one of the NFL's pre-eminent modern offenses, with Kansas City leading the league in Efficiency Versus Expected (EVE) on offense in 2022.

    With Hill out of the picture, Kelce has unsurprisingly served as the focal point of the attack. Arguably no two players in the NFL enjoy the same level of symbiosis as Mahomes and Kelce consistently display, the future Hall of Fame tight end continuing to confound defenses with his route-running and ability to create yardage after the catch.

    His domain while generating those headaches for defenders has primarily been the slot. 

    Of Kelce's routes in the 2022 season, 300 have come from the slot, compared to 173 from the outside receiver position and 139 from a traditional tight end alignment. 

    Kelce's burn rate, which measures how often a receiver wins his matchup on a play where he is targeted, is 75.0 per cent from the slot, the seventh-best among slots with at least 25 targets. In other words, he has created separation from his defender on three quarters of his slot targets in 2022.

    Shutting down Kelce is a challenge few have had much success rising to, but the Eagles have a player who is statistically the best remedy to the threat he poses in slot cornerback Avonte Maddox.

    Maddox's combined open percentage allowed across man and zone coverage of 18.1 per cent is the best of any cornerback in the NFL. By that measure, Maddox is the elite at the slot corner position, and he will need to prove it for the Eagles to have any hope of containing Kelce and, in turn, the Chiefs.

    Jalen Hurts vs. Chiefs' front seven

    Two weeks removed from winning the AFC Championship Game on a sprained ankle, there is the question of how much of a running threat Patrick Mahomes can be in a game where even a sporadic impact from him on the ground would make a significant difference to keeping the Eagles' defense off the front foot.

    While he has recently dealt with a sprained shoulder, there will be no such doubts surrounding Hurts. The Eagles will run the ball, and Hurts will be integral to their game plan in doing so.

    Hurts and the Eagles have, for the entirety of the season when the starting quarterback has been healthy, done an outstanding job of keeping defenses guessing with a diverse run game built around the zone-read and the read-option.

    That presents a rather large problem for the Chiefs, whose primary weakness on defense is – you guessed it – against the run.

    The Chiefs rank 17th in run defense EVE, with their performance in that metric dropping to 24th against the rush in neutral situations – when the offense could realistically either run or throw the ball. 

    Philadelphia's offense thrives by creating doubt in the defense over what is coming in neutral situations, excelling at doing so to the point in the NFC Championship Game where San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner – who represents the gold standard at his position – was left stationary for key plays as indecision superseded his usually outstanding instincts.

    Kansas City's linebackers are not on the same level as Warner, with starters Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr. both below the average in run defense win rate (17.7 per cent) for the position. 

    Their fallibility in that regard is something the Eagles will endeavour to attack time and again in pursuit of their second Super Bowl. It will take an intelligent and likely more measured approach from a defensive front known for its aggressiveness and an exceptional display of awareness from the Kansas City linebackers for the Chiefs' defense to avoid a long and very painful evening on the biggest stage.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.