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The top five must-see games on the Bulls 2015-16 schedule

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The top five must-see games on the Bulls 2015-16 schedule

The NBA season is an 82-game grind, so one game usually doesn’t hold much more weight than the other. However, the energy for a few games will be higher than your ordinary Tuesday-night-in-February matchups due to rivalries or the novelty of seeing a player for perhaps the final time (Kobe Bryant).

That said, here are the top five must-see games on the Bulls’ just-released schedule for the 2015-16 season:

1. Oct. 27: Opening night vs. Cavaliers at the United Center. It won’t be revenge considering the Cavaliers took the second-round matchup in six games, but the Bulls could send an opening-night message to the Eastern Conference champs in Fred Hoiberg’s debut as coach in front of what should be a mad crowd on Madison. LeBron James and the Cavaliers won the last three games of their series after falling behind 2-1 in May, including two games at the United Center. It won’t necessarily signal if the Bulls are serious about contending in the East, not so early, but it will be an emotionally charged evening in the NBA’s season-opener.

2. Dec. 25: Christmas Day vs. Thunder in OKC. Both teams changed coaches in the hope of winning a championship, and Kevin Durant could be on a season-long revenge tour after missing most of last year due to a foot injury. If he’s fully healed and both squads are relatively healthy, it’ll be a star-studded Christmas Day game in Oklahoma City, where many eyes start to shift away from football and to hoops.

[MORE BULLS: Rose skips USA minicamp; Westbrook praises Rose's workouts]

3. Nov. 20: Bulls visit defending champs vs. Warriors in Oakland. Being one of the few teams to beat the 2014-15 champs on their home floor last season, the Bulls will travel early on to the Bay Area to see if the Warriors are on track for a repeat or if they’ll suffer from a championship hangover. Derrick Rose had one of his season highlights in their Jan. 27 matchup, an overtime win for the Bulls. Who knows if another classic finish will be in store this time around.

4. Feb. 21: Kobe Bryant’s last Chicago visit vs. Lakers. Assuming Bryant isn’t on the injured list, as has become custom for the league’s living legend in recent years, this trip could hold special meaning for both sides. Bryant followed in Michael Jordan’s footsteps and even flirted with coming to Chicago while demanding a trade from the Lakers in 2007. The Kobe Bryant retirement tour could be on full blast by that time, right after the All-Star break. A knowledgeable Chicago fan base should show its appreciation for perhaps the second-best shooting guard of all-time.

5. April 3: Playoff rematch vs. Bucks. The Bucks gave the Bulls way more than they could handle in their first-round matchup, where the Bucks clawed back from a 3-0 deficit to give the Bulls a serious scare. The Bulls wised up in Game 6 in Milwaukee, but it took a little steam out before Round 2 — while giving the young Bucks a belief headed into the offseason that they can compete with the experienced bunch. They’ve added Greg Monroe from Detroit, and Chicago native Jabari Parker should be healthy for Year 2. Could this be the next burgeoning rivalry?

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.