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.

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    Jacque Vaughn believes the Brooklyn Nets proved what they want to be by fighting back to defeat the Washington Wizards on Saturday.

    Cam Thomas scored 44 points from the bench as the Nets overturned a 23-point deficit at Barclays Center.

    The Nets were without star players Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons and Kyrie Irving, the latter missing with a calf issue having this week requested a trade.

    Irving was not in attendance, with Vaughn saying "we were all in agreement on him not being here", as the Nets coach hailed his team's mental fortitude.

    "We stacked the deck, I think, at mentally challenging them tonight," he told reporters. 

    "We didn't get off to the start that we wanted to, but we responded. We talked about it at half-time that it was more than the physical piece of this game that we were missing, it was the mental piece of this game.

    "Definitely a shift in our mentality. And we got rewarded for it.

    "It's proof, it's evidence of who we want to be as a team. We talked about what day of the week, what state we're in, how many guys are available.

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    Thomas' points haul was a career-best tally for the 21-year-old, who has played 35 times this season but is yet to make a start.

    Edmond Sumner added 29 points but used his post-match press conference to laud his team-mate's match-winning efforts.

    "I'm watching him score after score. Cam's a guy that once he gets that type of rhythm, you've just got to let him go," Sumner said.

    "He can run off 10, 15, 20 straight. In the fourth quarter, he really picked it up and got it. Get it going, Cam. Go to work my guy. I love it."

    Saturday's game marked an 11th start of the season for Sumner, who can empathise with Thomas when it comes to a lack of opportunities.

    Sumner added: "People don't see what we really go through every day.

    "It's hard not playing games when you're busting your butt every day – it's hard. For you to always stay mentally happy, it's tough.

    "I know how hard he works, how talented he is. We stay ready every day, we compete against each other almost every day, so that was huge.

    "I love that everybody on this team was happy for him and then we let him go to work."

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    Stephen Curry's knee injury suffered during Saturday's win over the Dallas Mavericks is a "concern" for Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr.

    The reigning NBA champions had enough to close out the game, beating the Mavs 119-113 at Chase Center.

    But Curry – who recorded 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds – was forced off in the third quarter.

    Defending a drive, Curry was involved in a collision that instantly caused him obvious discomfort and prevented him from continuing.

    The Warriors confirmed X-ray results came back negative, but more examinations are required to understand the full nature of the injury.

    "Any time a guy's going to get an MRI there's a concern level, for sure," Kerr said. "So we'll just have to wait and see the results.

    "This has happened many, many times over the years. So, fingers crossed he's OK."

    Curry hurt the same knee only two days before against the Denver Nuggets, though Kerr was unsure if the two injuries had any form of relation.

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    "If he's out, then we move forward and we do have some games to look at, some game film to look at," Kerr added. "We'll be ready, regardless."

    Curry's exit coincided with a significant drop-off for the Warriors, who went from 20 points up to having just a five-point lead with a little over 90 seconds left.

    It is not the first time the Warriors have been unconvincing when trying to close a game out, with Draymond Green suggesting the players need to take more responsibility.

    "When we get down the stretch, we stop doing the things that work," he said. "When the game is going down the stretch, it's hard for Steve [Kerr] to get a call in every time.

    "You're under pressure, it's intense, you're in the game, you're not really focused on what's coming from the sidelines. We've got to do a better job closing down the stretch."

    This victory took the Warriors to 27-26 for the season, leaving them seventh in the Western Conference.

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    Irving has requested a trade away from the Brooklyn Nets ahead of the deadline next week.

    The eight-time All-Star did not feature for the Nets on Saturday due to a calf issue, though his absence was not felt too keenly in a comeback win over the Washington Wizards.

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    In January, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said "there's no resource we'll hold onto" if an opportunity to win a championship was there, and a possible trade for Irving might just fall into that category.

    For James, it is a no-brainer, though he emphasised it is not his call.

    "That's a Rob question," James said when asked about the possibility of reuniting with Irving, whom he reached three NBA Finals with while at the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

    "You've got to see [Pelinka] when you all get back to L.A. I don't speak for our front office.

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    The 2017 NBA MVP had 15 points, four assists and four rebounds from the bench on Saturday, though was not called upon by Darvin Ham in the final quarter.

    There is plenty of speculation over his future, but asked if he was feeling extra pressure, Westbrook replied: "I do not.

    "That's not up to me. I've known this was a business since I was 18, 19-years old, since I got into it.

    "My dad taught me that at that age, getting to this league is a business, and people make whatever decision they make, that's up to them.

    "I've been all in since day one. I'm very supportive of my team-mates. I compete every night. I'll make sure I'm ready and professional, like I always have been and always will be."

    James echoed the sentiment, adding: "It shouldn't be an issue. The trade deadline happens every single year.

    "You go out and focus, no matter what happens. You're still a professional."

    As for making history, James could break the points record on Tuesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    "I just want to win, you know. You play the game the right way and see what happens," he said.

    "I'm tired as hell, [but] I'll be ready to go on Tuesday."

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