Bulls

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

schanowski_article_bulls_pistons.jpg
USA TODAY

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Expectations for the Bulls over the last 24 games

ottomatic.jpg
USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Expectations for the Bulls over the last 24 games

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski is joined by The Athletic Bulls beat writer Darnell Mayberry.

0:45 - Darnell on his very lengthy mailbag over 6500 words answering Bulls fans questions

1:50 - On Otto Porter and his impact on the Bulls

5:00 - On Bulls looking much better with Porter

6:00 - On Kris Dunn and his future

7:20 - Where Zion Williamson fits as a pro (Editor’s note: this podcast was taped prior to the Duke-UNC game on Wednesday night)

11:10 - On Ja Morant, his ceiling, and risk vs reward of picking him

16:20 - Is Zach LaVine an option at point guard?

17:15 - Darnell on why Markkanen and Carter Jr would have trouble co-existing with Zion Williamson

19:10 - On Jim Boylen’s future with the Bulls

23:55 - On the chance that Derrick Rose could play for the Bulls next season

25:30 - What to look for over the final 24 games

26:50 - Will Robin Lopez finish the season with Bulls?

28:20 - On lottery odds and seemingly being locked into the 4th spot in the lottery

29:30 - On chance for a significant jump for Bulls next season

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

Subscribe:

Zion Williamson suffers mild knee sprain in opening minute of Duke-UNC

Zion Williamson suffers mild knee sprain in opening minute of Duke-UNC

In a game in which you could spot the likes of Bulls General Manager Gar Forman and former President Barack Obama in the crowd, almost everyone came away disappointed. In the opening minute of Wednesday’s Duke-North Carolina game, Blue Devils star Zion Williamson slipped when trying to plant his foot, tearing through his PG 2.5 basketball sneaker and suffering an apparent knee/lower leg injury.

The Williamson injury happened approximately 40 seconds into the game, taking away much of the fanfare from one of the most anticipated college basketball games of the year for both fans and NBA scouts alike.

Postgame, Duke head coach Mike Krzyewski stated that Zion’s injury as of now is being labeled a mild knee sprain.

This initial diagnosis is very good for Williamson, as the injury appeared to be a much more serious knee or lower leg issue in real-time. Without Williamson, Duke had to rely heavily on freshmen RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones for offense, and Jone specifically struggled to take on a bigger role. Clearly, Williamson’s prolonged absence had both a mental and physical effect on this young Duke team. They had no rim protection without him and they severely missed his leadership once the game got out of hand.

There was no shortage of love for Zion on the night, with everyone wishing him a quick recovery, including President Obama and Nike.

As of Wednesday night, there is no official timetable for Williamson’s return. He will almost surely missed Duke’s next game on February 23 against Syracuse. Their last game of the regular season is a rematch against UNC on March 9. After that, the Blue Devils will be getting ready for the ACC Tournament in Charlotte, that starts on March 12. If Williamson is going to return this season, it would be reasonable to expect it to happen by the ACC Tournament, as it is hard to imagine the idea of Zion playing in the NCAA Tournament without any game reps prior.

And of course, Williamson could shut it down for the rest of the season if he wants to use this recovery period to get ready for the NBA Draft, an idea that Bulls Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen had already floated. Regardless of what Williamson chooses to do, the entire basketball world will be on the edge of their seats, waiting for updates.