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Bulls' quest for playoff spot takes hit with loss to Grizzlies

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Bulls' quest for playoff spot takes hit with loss to Grizzlies

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Grizzlies solidified their grip on a Western Conference playoff spot, while the Chicago Bulls saw their postseason chances slip further away.

Despite missing several key players, the Grizzlies forced the Bulls out of their offense, stymied Chicago's leading scorer and captured a 108-92 victory on Tuesday night.

Memphis snapped a six-game losing streak and remained in the Western Conference's fifth playoff spot.

"It was a great win," said Zach Randolph, who led the Grizzlies with 27 points and 10 rebounds. "We've been searching, and we've been desperate for a win."

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Vince Carter added 17 points as Memphis displayed a strong defense missing in recent games. The Bulls, who had won three of four, never got the deficit under double digits in the fourth quarter of a loss that damaged their playoff hopes.

Chicago remained two games behind the Detroit Pistons for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Pistons lost 107-89 at Miami.

"It was very disappointing to throw away an opportunity like this, especially with Detroit losing," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.

Nikola Mirotic led Chicago with 20 points, going 6 of 9 from 3-point range. Pau Gasol had 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Derrick Rose had 12 points and eight assists, while Bobby Portis also finished with 12 points.

"They just played like they wanted to get into the playoffs," Rose said of the Grizzlies. He added he was baffled by the Bulls' lack of effort.

"I think everyone was surprised," Rose said. "I still can't believe it."

Bulls leading scorer Jimmy Butler was held scoreless through three quarters before finishing with five points, converting only 2-of-8 shots and missing all four shots outside the arc.

The Grizzlies caused 20 Chicago turnovers, leading to 38 Memphis points. Tony Allen, who guarded Butler much of the night, had four of Memphis' 13 steals in the game.

"We know he's prolific," Allen said of Butler. "I thought I tried to limit his touches. . I just locked in, keyed in and tried my best to compete for the whole 48 minutes. Well, the minutes I was out there."

[MORE: Bulls: Jerry Reinsdorf humble in response to Hall of Fame inclusion]

Matt Barnes scored 16 points, and Jordan Farmar had a season-high 15 for Memphis, which has stumbled down the stretch, playing without key starters Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, both done for the season.

Memphis, which led by as many as 22 in the third quarter, still held a 91-70 lead after a pair of free throws from JaMychal Green with 8:45 left. But the Bulls clicked off the game's next 10 points to make it interesting. Mirotic's 3-pointer near the 6-minute mark capped the run and made it 91-80.

That was as close as the Bulls could get.

"If we come out and play like that every game," Randolph said, "we give ourselves a chance to win even with the circumstances of our team."

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

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USA TODAY

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

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

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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.