3 things to look for: Bulls-Cavaliers


Bulls-Cavaliers is a matchup of two struggling teams, both looking for their second win of the 2019-20 regular season. While the Cavaliers are—much like the Knicks—a team that the Bulls match up well with on paper, they do present some intriguing challenges.

The Cavaliers are also a team with several glaring weaknesses that the Bulls should be able to exploit on their way to a victory. Here are three things to look for in Wednesday's Bulls-Cavaliers matchup. 

1. The battle on the boards

The Bulls have been outrebounded in three of their four games and while rebounds are not a direct indicator of wins and losses, it is no shocker that the Bulls are 1-3 heading into their match up with the Cavaliers when seeing this fact. Their struggles on the boards were extremely visible in Monday's loss to the Knicks, in which Chicago was outrebounded by 30. 

Cleveland is first in the league in defensive rebound percentage and fourth in contested rebound percentage.

The Cavs clean up the defensive glass and they fight hard for every board despite not having a significantly tall roster. Players like Kevin Love (15.7 rebounds per game) and Tristan Thompson (12.3 rebounds per game) make the Cavaliers a dangerous team on both the offensive and defensive glass. 

Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Thaddeus Young, Luke Kornet and potentially Daniel Gafford will need to be diligent in boxing out. The Cavaliers are one of the worst 3-point shooting teams percentage-wise but they take 34.7 attempts from 3-point range per game, which ranks 13th in the league.

2. Will the Bulls commit to attacking the basket?

Under Jim Boylen, the Bulls have always stated that they want to "get downhill" and put pressure on the basket. Four games into the 2019-20 season and the Bulls are 10th in the league in drives per game (48.0). The Cavaliers are a team that should be susceptible to being attacked by weakside cuts and straight-line drives.

Cleveland starts the young (and fairly small) backcourt of second-year pro Collin Sexton (6-foot-2) and 2019 No. 5 overall pick Darius Garland (6-foot-2).

The Cavaliers allow 35.0 field goal attempts per game that are less than 5-feet from the basket and they are allowing opponents to shoot 64.8% on those attempts (ninth worst mark in the league).

We have seen LaVine, Carter, and Markkanen struggle with finishing, especially through contact. Cleveland presents a great opportunity for that trio to get going offensively. 

Carter had a breakout game of sorts with his 20-point, 10-rebound effort against the Knicks and he will likely be too busy battling Thompson and co. on the glass in this one.

LaVine should be able to break through a perimeter defense that features two rookies in Garland and Kevin Porter Jr., as well as Jordan Clarkson and Cedi Osman, neither of which are strong perimeter defenders. Markkanen will have slightly tougher matchups in Love, Larry Nance Jr., and potentially John Henson.

That being said, Love specifically, should be someone Markkanen goes at every time. He has the speed advantage and should be able to get to the free throw line, if not get a clean look, most trips down the court.

3. Can the Bulls' defense ignite the transition attack?

The Cavaliers are 17th in the league in turnover percentage (15.3%). Their struggles with turnovers are expected on a team that features a rookie and a second-year player handling most of the playmaking duties. The Bulls have been quite aggressive in their pick-and-roll defense and while it has hurt them against most opponents, they should be able to frustrate these young Cavs.

The Bulls are third in the league in percentage of points coming off of turnovers, while the Cavaliers are dead-last in this category.

LaVine and co. have looked better in spurts on defense, but this is a great matchup for them to really show improvement.

If the Bulls can get their hands in the passing lanes, this could be a game where they take control early. But if they settle in and let Cleveland get comfortable, this will be a back-and-forth affair where the first team to get hot from 3-point range wins.

The Cavs are third in the league in opponent's free throw attempts. It is of course early in the season, so this number doesn't represent their absolute strength, but it showcases that so far, they have been diligent in guarding without fouling. A big reason for this is that they are allowing opponents to shoot so well from the field (46.8%, fifth worst mark in the league).

With a lack of rim protection and solid decision-makers, the Cavaliers are a team that should allow the Bulls to get into an offensive groove. But as we have seen this season, generating a lot of open looks is only half the battle, as you also have to make them.

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