For the third time this season, the Bulls face off with the Pistons, this time in Detroit. The game tips off at 6 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here’s what to watch for:
Pistons’ last five games (1-4)
Dec. 20 — L at Celtics: 114-93
Dec. 18 — L vs. Raptors: 112-99
Dec. 16 — L vs. Wizards: 133-119
Dec. 14 — W at Rockets: 115-107
Dec. 12 — L vs. Mavericks: 122-111
Storyline(s) for each team
The Pistons enter play 11-18, one of two teams between the Bulls (11-19) and the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference (the 13-18 Hornets are the current occupants of that slot) and on the second night of a road-home back-to-back. That last point makes them especially vulnerable. This season, the Pistons are 1-4 on the second night of back-to-backs, averaging only 38.4 rebounds per game (compared to 42.9 overall) and shooting only 30.7% from 3-point range (37.6% overall). Tired legs could give the Bulls an edge tonight.
What’s more, the Bulls have already topped the Pistons twice this season, and the last affair was an absolute drubbing. In a 109-89 victory on Nov. 20, the Bulls flipped the script on every theoretical advantage the Pistons might have had, outrebounding them 69-54 and holding them to 33.7% field goal shooting in Blake Griffin’s first game of the season.
Now, the Bulls are coming off an exhilarating — albeit ultimately uninspiring — comeback victory over the Wizards and are somehow only 1.5 games backs of that aforementioned eighth seed. The Bulls have proven they can beat this Pistons team already this season. With matchups against the Magic (12-17) and Hawks (6-23) next week, then a three-game run of the Bucks (25-4), Jazz (17-11) and Celtics (19-7) looming afterwards, this simply has to be a win.
Side storyline: Lauri Markkanen is averaging 17.9 points on 51.2% shooting (41.1% from three) in the month of December. He's averaged 19 points and 6.5 rebounds in two games against Detroit this season, and shot 6-for-11 from three. His continued emergence has the potential to drastically alter the Bulls' season-long fate.
Player to watch: Andre Drummond
Drummond has become notorious for dominating the Bulls — in 29 career games against them, he averages 13.6 points, 14.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, and has secured 20+ rebounds in nine separate contests. A powerful interior scorer (66.3% shooting on nine restricted area FGA per game) and soul-crushing rebounder (16.5 boards per game, 4.6 of those offensive), he’s a prototypical foil for a Bulls team that hemorrhages looks around the rim and second-chance opportunities.
The last time these two teams met, Wendell Carter was up to the task of neutralizing him. Carter finished their Nov. 20 matchup with 12 points, 15 rebounds, plus a block and a steal, while Drummond had 6 points and 14 boards on only 3-for-10 shooting (this after putting up a 25/24 in their first matchup of the season on Nov. 1). These two figure to be key, tonight — the Bulls have proven prone to energy-sapped stretches when the glass and second-chance point battles don’t go their way. If Drummond gets going, that could become a theme.
Matchup to watch: 3-point line
You wouldn’t know it if you only watched the Pistons play the Bulls, but they’ve been one of the more accurate long-distance shooting teams in the NBA this season. Detroit enters play with the fourth-highest 3-point percentage in the NBA (37.6%). Granted, they take only 32.4 3-pointers per game (19th in the league), but boast four players shooting above 39% on more than four 3-point attempts per game (Tony Snell, Langston Galloway, Luke Kennard and Markieff Morris).
But in two games against the Bulls, they’ve shot a combined 14-for-62 (22.6%) from behind the arc, while the Bulls have shot 30-for-67 (44.8%). Regression to the mean might be reasonable to expect there, and Kennard (15.8 points, 39.7 3P%) should be fresh. He sat out last night’s game in Boston with a nagging knee issue, likely a strategic move to ensure he doesn't play two nights in a row. Griffin was also inactive on Friday, so keep an eye on each of their statuses. Every phase of the Pistons offensive attack suffers if those two are missing or not at full strength.
Obligatory Derrick Rose stats
Here’s a couple Derrick Rose nuggets, because I was rude and didn’t put him as the ‘player to watch.'
Rose is currently 13th in the NBA in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus.
This season, Rose is averaging his highest average assists total (6.0 per game) since the 2011-12 season.
In his last 11 games, Rose is averaging 16.8 points and 6.6 assists (25 minutes per) on 47.6% shooting. His current 48.3% season-long shooting clip (on 13.9 attempts/g) would be the highest of his career.
Tonight is Rose’s seventh career matchup against the Bulls. In his first six, he’s averaging 19.8 points and 5.8 assists per game on 52.9% shooting.
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