What to watch for: Bulls look to build momentum against struggling Kings

Rob Schaefer
NBC Sports Chicago

Kings' last five games (0-5)

  • Jan. 22 - L at Pistons: 127-106

  • Jan. 20 - L at Heat: 118-113 (OT)

  • Jan. 18 - L at Jazz: 123-101

  • Jan. 15 - L vs. Mavericks: 127-123

  • Jan. 13 - L vs. Magic: 114-112

Another struggling squad

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On Wednesday, the Bulls (17-29) extended a Timberwolves losing streak to seven games. Tonight, they'll look to do the same to Sacramento (15-29). Once thought of as a viable contender for a playoff spot, the Kings enter play losers of 15 of their last 18 games and ahead of only the 10-36 Warriors in the West - a stretch defined by untimely injuries, chemistry malfunctions and evident lackluster play. 

Also like the Wolves, the Kings are in the midst of an extended road trip - theirs a five-game swing that wraps up Monday in Minnesota. The Bulls pounced on the Timberwolves early on Wednesday, at one point establishing a 19-point second quarter lead and scoring 15 points off of 12 turnovers in the first half. Per Cleaning the Glass, Sacramento owns the ninth-highest turnover rate in the NBA (15%), though they've been average in that regard since De'Aaron Fox's return from injury on Dec. 17. 

Fox missed these teams' last meeting on Dec. 2, but is averaging 19.7 points and 7.2 assists on 49.8% shooting since coming back; his downhill force and the sharpshooting Buddy Hield will be a handful in the backcourt.

Still, the Kings are a bottom-ten team in net rating, assist and rebound rate, true shooting percentage and pace. And they're fresh off a 21-point loss to the Pistons sans Andre Drummond, Luke Kennard and Blake Griffin. The Bulls should be able to speed them up and pull this one out - if not, it would be disappointing.

Two thin frontcourts, and Markkanen gaining an edge

Marvin Bagley III (foot sprain) and Richaun Holmes (shoulder soreness) have both already been listed as inactive for Sacramento. That thins the Kings' frontcourt down to, presumably, a starting pairing of Nemanja Bjelica and the embattled Dewayne Dedmon, with Anthony Tolliver and Harry Giles III off the bench. Harrison Barnes is also capable of filling spot minutes at the four.

The Bulls, of course, are still without Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford for the immediate future - Gafford is just over a week into his 2-4 week recovery schedule, Carter two weeks into his 4-6 week timetable. Luke Kornet (averaging 11 points and 1.2 blocks in his last five) and Cristiano Felicio (coming off a double-double) have performed admirably in their stead, but not having to see Bagley or the electric Holmes (13.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per game, 66% shooting; 20 points, nine rebounds on Dec. 2) is welcome news, regardless.

Also welcome would be another encouraging Lauri Markkanen performance, which we certainly have a chance for tonight. The Wolves game represented only the sixth time Zach LaVine and Markkanen have both scored 20+ points in the same game. One of the previous five? When the Bulls last faced Sacramento. Markkanen had 20 points and seven rebounds in that victory, a game Bagley also didn't appear in.

Per Cleaning the Glass, in a limited sample size with both Bagley and Holmes off the floor, the Kings' allow a suboptimal 111.1 points per 100 possessions and 70.4% shooting at the rim. Get Markkanen on the move and attacking Sacramento's slow-footed bigs, and we could see another solid outing.

*In my best Jim Mora voice* Playoffs?!

It pains me to even write this (for fear of raising hopes), but with the Nets' loss to the Lakers last night, the Bulls are somehow only 2.5 games back of the eighth seed in the East.

If a postseason appearance remains a goal for this team - and by all accounts it does - the three-game stretch they're currently on is pivotal. Between Minnesota (seven), Sacramento (six) and Cleveland (seven) on Saturday, the Bulls have the fortune of facing the teams with the three longest losing streaks in the NBA to close this week out. 

Come Monday, the race for the playoffs could very well be a storyline, even in spite of the team's current 4-8 record in January. The most pressing implications of that would be on the organization's rationale at the upcoming trade deadline. But, of course, no win is guaranteed with this team - if nothing else, this one will undoubtedly be competitive.

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What to watch for: Bulls look to build momentum against struggling Kings originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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