In a matchup of two stumbling squads, the Bulls look to begin the process of righting the ship against the Pistons. The game tips off at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here’s what to watch for:
In spite of it all, a winnable game
The Bulls enter this game with a bad, no-good, rotten 4-10 record. Lucky for them, their opponent is 4-9, and has lost five of their last six.
En route to their own disappointing start to the season, the Pistons have dealt with injuries to key players in Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson and Derrick Rose, devolved into one of the lowest rated defenses in the league and struggled mightily with turnovers. They’re actually a pretty good shooting team, but play at such a slow pace (99.96 possessions per 48 minutes, 25th in the NBA), that they haven’t been able to fully maximize that efficiency in the way many modern offenses do.
Oh, man. They’re kind of the anti-Bulls.
In that vein, the area in which Detroit struggles the most could play directly into the Bulls’ hands. Literally. The Pistons are currently tied for 27th in the league in turnovers (17.5) per game and 28th in opponent points off turnovers (28th) per game, while the Bulls rank first in both opponent turnovers (18.9) and points off turnovers (21.9) per game.
In the first meeting of the season between the two teams — a six-point Bulls win on Nov. 1 — the turnover battle was largely even. But tonight, look for that and the Bulls’ ability to turn takeaways into fast break opportunities to be a factor.
Holding ground in the paint and on the wing
Sure, the Bulls have already beaten these Pistons. But much has changed for both teams since their first meeting — chiefly: Blake Griffin is back for Detroit, and both Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison are missing for Chicago. (Hutchison was inactive for their first matchup, too, but Porter started and notched 22 points and six rebounds while shooting 3-for-4 from three.)
Andre Drummond beat the Bulls up on the glass en route to 24 rebounds and Detroit dominated the points-in-the-paint battle 66-40 on Nov. 1. And while not yet at full strength, the addition of Griffin to Detroit’s rotation should only exacerbate those disparities — especially considering the struggles the Bulls have had rebounding, protecting the rim and scoring around the basket. Losing the long, solid and athletic Hutchison just hours before the contest doesn’t help, either.
Boylen may choose to counter with another dose of Daniel Gafford, a strategy many Bulls fans — and players — would certainly endorse. Monday night, the Bulls both outrebounded and won the points-in-the-paint battle against the Bucks, a great rebounding and interior scoring squad. It’s hard to credit all of that to Gafford, but he remains an intriguing option in spurts in this matchup.
On the wing, it’s worth monitoring what buttons Boylen pushes with his rotations. He’ll likely have to call upon Denzel Valentine and/or Shaq Harrison to eat minutes out there (something he’s shied away from doing early in the season), and don’t be surprised to see three-guard lineups — a configuration Boylen has demonstrated an affinity for — galore.
Can Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen bounce back?
Of late, the cornerstones of the rebuild have looked anything but. In Monday’s game against Milwaukee, LaVine and Markkanen combined to shoot 6-for-28, and spearheaded a crunch-time unit that failed to score a field goal in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter.
Their struggles go deeper than that one game, but a Detroit defense that has had issues defending on the perimeter presents an opportunity for each of them to bounce back. In the aforementioned Nov. 1 matchup, LaVine notched 26 points, five rebounds and three assists on 8-for-20 shooting. Markkanen tallied 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals (3-for-7 from three), but took only nine shots. Neither of those lines are stamping them tickets to All-Star weekend, but any hint of improvement would be a welcome development.
Right now, the hope — especially for Markkanen — is that things can only go up from here.
Derrick Rose returns (again)
Last season, there were ‘MVP’ chants. This year, a standing ovation. What will another Derrick Rose return to the UC hold? No one can say for certain, but at the very least, a reunion with an old friend:
And, of course, there’s a game to be played, too. As mentioned, Rose has been in and out of the Pistons rotation early in the season with a nagging hamstring injury. When he’s played, he’s been excellent, averaging 18.4 points and 5.8 assists in 24.5 minutes per game with 54.1/37.5/89.7 (all career-bests) shooting splits.
And he always shows out in Chicago. In three games as a visitor against the Bulls, Rose has averaged 20.7 points, 8.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds and two steals per game on 25-for-48 (52.1%) shooting.
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