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Gasol, Bulls respond in Detroit for important road win

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Gasol, Bulls respond in Detroit for important road win

The last time the Pistons and Bulls met up, 68 minutes of scintillating, exhausting basketball took place at the United Center, as the Pistons took the second meeting between the two rivals.

And as exhausting as that game was for Pau Gasol, it promised to be just as taxing defending Andre Drummond without the help and assistance of Joakim Noah.

But mammoth challenges presents opportunity, and Gasol showed his value to the Bulls and the league at large with a 31-point, 12-rebound performance, leading the Bulls to a 111-101 win at the Palace Monday afternoon, their first win in three tries.

Derrick Rose’s two drives to the basket on consecutive plays, the last a fading, hooking floater, put seemed to end the Pistons’ threat and send the fans to the exits, giving him 20 with four assists on nine of 17 shooting in just 27 minutes.

“Pau was unbelievable all night long and I thought our guys did a great job of finding him and setting screens on Drummond,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Derrick made a couple nice takes to the basket late.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Gasol’s triple with the shot clock expiring gave the Bulls a 98-88 lead with a little under six minutes to go, and combined with the ejection of perimeter stopper Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, things became more and more likely to roll in the Bulls’ favor.

And without Noah, the Bulls will need more and more performances like this from Gasol, probably just to stay afloat.

“It’s gonna be different on different nights,” Hoiberg said. “He had it going. And plus he does a good job from a size standpoint against Drummond. We’ll look at the schedule and see if there’s opportunity to rest him.”

Without Noah, the dependence will be greater but Rose believes it presents more of an opportunity for others to step forward—and he’s not buying the Bulls being better without Noah, despite the Bulls’ 9-2 record without him.

“I’m not going to say we’re over him or don’t need him. We need him for sure,” Rose said. “We’re professionals, we know that once someone goes down somebody has to step in and do their job. We’re going to see how far this can go.”

Aaron Brooks came off the bench to tally 10 assists, with Butler having nine of his own as the Bulls dished out 28 helpers to just 10 turnovers, reversing what had been an alarming trend, particularly on the road.

“I thought our bench turned around the game for us and they got us back into it,” said Hoiberg, remarking about the second quarter where the Bulls gained control thanks to Brooks’ driving and dishing to the likes of Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic for 3-pointers, as the Pistons defense was slow to recover and allowed guard penetration all game.

 "I thought our guys made the right plays, we made simple plays," Hoiberg said.

[MORE: Jimmy Butler named finalist for 2016 USA Basketball team] 

Drummond had another double-double, but the Bulls, and Gasol, limited his above-the-rim plays and even drew a semi-controversial 3-point shooting foul with 0.3 seconds on the shot clock when the Pistons were making a slight run.

Drummond finished with 13 points and 15 rebounds, and Reggie Jackson scored 19 with six assists—but without the blistering effect he had in their last meeting when he torched the Bulls for 40-plus.

With a tough week ahead, Monday was the start, and the Bulls finally played with the requisite focus, as the Pistons beat the Golden State Warriors Saturday night on their home floor.

It didn’t start out that way, as the Bulls seemed to be in a lethargy that’s usually reserved for games against the Pistons, a team that has turned things around matchup-wise over the last two years or so.

Gasol shooting six for seven from the field kept the Bulls afloat when they didn’t seem interested in competing with the Pistons on the interior. The Pistons took a 13-point lead and it seemed to be on the way to running the Bulls out of the building.

But the Bulls actually played with a little poise, and wouldn’t you know it, held it together long enough for an impressive road win against an above. 500 team.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: A sprained MCL and Trubisky's performance. vs the Pats

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: A sprained MCL and Trubisky's performance. vs the Pats

David Haugh, Jordan Cornette, Shae Peppler join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- Mark Schanowski joins SportsTalk Live to discuss Kris Dunn’s sprained MCL, Fred Hoiberg’s tough luck and Zach LaVine postgame criticisms of the coaching. Plus they’ll discuss another 0-3 team- LeBron’s Lakers.

20:00 – The panel discusses Mitchell Trubisky’s performance vs. the Patriots. Jordan makes the case that the media is giving the former No. 2 pick a pass.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

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USA TODAY

Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

Through the opening week of the NBA season, Hornets' All-Star point guard Kemba Walker and former Bull Niko Mirotic share the league scoring lead, averaging 33 points per game.

Bulls' fans have seen these hot stretches from Niko before, and chances are he'll start moving down to the mid to high-teens before long. But Walker is a big-time scorer who's quietly emerged as one of the most consistently productive point guards in a league loaded with stars at that position. He's averaged over 20 points and 5 assists in each of the last three seasons, making the Eastern Conference All-Star team twice.

Last season, Walker lit up the Bulls for 47 points in an overtime loss at the United Center in November, making some of the most difficult shots you can imagine to keep his team in the game. He seems to be as this best when facing the Bulls and you can bet Fred Hoiberg and his staff will pull out all the stops to try to slow him down, especially with defensive ace Kris Dunn out 4-6 weeks after suffering a sprained left MCL in his season debut on Monday.

The Hornets made some personnel changes since last season. The one-year experiment with Dwight Howard at center is over. Howard put up solid numbers for Charlotte a year ago, but didn't make much difference in the win-loss column, so he's moved on to Washington in his NBA odyssey. Cody Zeller is now the starting center, backed up by Bismack Biyombo and former Benet Academy and University of Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky.

Charlotte tried to improve the athleticism on their roster by selecting Malik Monk and Miles Bridges in the first rounds of the last two drafts. Monk is getting more playing time this season, averaging 13.5 points in the Hornets' first four games. Bridges is averaging just under 16 minutes a game as a backup to starting forwards Marvin Williams and Nic Batum. Just like he did at Michigan State, Bridges is providing those highlight reel putback dunks, but it remains to be seen whether he'll develop a consistent enough outside shot to be a quality starter in the NBA.

The well-traveled Jeremy Lamb is now starting in the backcourt with Walker, and the Hornets brought in long-time Spurs' point guard Tony Parker to add some much needed experience and veteran savvy off the bench. Given the current state of the Eastern Conference (post-LeBron), it's not out of the question for this group to contend for one of the final playoff spots.

Here's what the Bulls need to do for a shot at their first win of the season. This also applies to the rematch in Charlotte on Friday.

1. CORRAL KEMBA. For whatever reason, seeing that Bulls' logo turns Walker into an almost unstoppable scoring machine. Walker is adept at working off his big men, either in straight pick and rolls or cutting through the post on give-and-go plays. He's one of the league's most creative scorers, and doesn't require much room to get his shot off. The Bulls' bigs will have to provide help on Walker whenever he comes off screens to keep him from taking over the game.

2. PUT THE BALL IN ZACH'S HANDS. Whether he's playing shooting guard or point guard, Zach LaVine needs to be the primary facilitator with Dunn sidelined. LaVine scored 34 points against Dallas Monday night on just 15 shots, which led to him questioning some of the offensive sets that were run in the 2nd half. LaVine told reporters on Tuesday that he smoothed things over with his head coach, explaining his comments were the result of the frustration he was feeling after a third-straight loss to open the season. Still, LaVine is on a major hot streak, joining Bulls' all-time greats Michael Jordan and Bob Love as the only players to start the year with three straight games scoring at least 30 points. The Bulls will need to ride that hot hand for as far as LaVine can carry them.

3. DEFEND THE 3-POINT LINE. You knew I would eventually get to this, right? Dallas made 15 of 47 3-point attempts on Monday after the Pistons knocked down 18 of 40 in a two-point win last Saturday. The Hornets have all kinds of capable 3-point shooters in Walker, Lamb, Monk, Batum and Williams (they're shooting .397 as a team on 3's), so guarding the arc will be crucial for the Bulls to have a chance at their first win.

Don’t forget you can catch Wednesday's game on NBC Sports Chicago and the new MyTeams by NBC sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 pm when Kendall Gill, Will Perdue and Kelly Crull join me for Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium. Neil Funk and Stacey King have the play-by-play call at 7 pm, then stay tuned after the final buzzer for Bulls Postgame Live and the always entertaining Bulls Outsiders.