Detroit Pistons

Four observations: Bulls get back in win column against Detroit Pistons

Four observations: Bulls get back in win column against Detroit Pistons

On the second night of a back-to-back, the Bulls stormed the Pistons off their home floor 108-99 on Saturday. With the win, the Bulls sweep the season series with Detroit and get back in the win column for the first time in six games. Here's some observations:

The Luke Kornet Game

This is the preeminent observation of all observations that I’ve ever made. Luke Kornet — who’s become regularly acquainted with DNP-CDs since Daniel Gafford’s ascension — stepped up tonight, and he stepped up big.

 

He was especially key early, when the Bulls’ built an, at one time, 18-point first-half lead over the Pistons. In the first quarter alone, Kornet had 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting (2-for-3 from deep), one block and a game-high +17 plus-minus (he ended the night +20). And he wasn't done. Later on, with the Pistons rallying, he hit a 3-pointer midway through the third to push the Bulls’ lead back to nine, and blocked a Bruce Brown layup at the period’s buzzer to secure an 81-71 lead entering the fourth.

Kornet finished the night with 15 points, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks in 25:17 minutes, and played some crucial minutes with Daniel Gafford in foul trouble, down the stretch. Notably, he also fared well enough stepping up in pick-and-roll coverage, a massive point of concern for him since he arrived in Chicago. Who knows what's to come from Kornet, but we'll always have tonight.

Bulls hold up down low

If you were apprehensive about how the Bulls would handle Andre Drummond and the Pistons one night after allowing 70 paint points (on 77.8% paint shooting) against the depleted Indiana Pacers, no one would blame you.

But the visitors flipped the script in this one, at least early on. In the first half, the Bulls outscored Detroit 40-26 in the paint, shooting 22-for-32 (68.8%) down low. That equalized a bit in the second half, but the Bulls had a 60-48 points in the paint advantage by game's end, shooting 65.3% (well above their season-long mark). That edge was much needed on an off jump-shooting night — the Bulls finished 31.4% from 3-point range but 50.6% from the field.

And Drummond was ultimately a non-factor. After sprinting out to eight first quarter points, he was ejected in the third for plunking Daniel Gafford after Gafford stared him down following a made layup:

 

The Pistons rallied and stayed in it until the bitter end from that point on, perhaps sparked by Drummond's ejection. Gafford, for his part, bounced back after a tough night against Indiana, finishing with 14 points, seven rebounds and a block on 7-for-9 shooting with a few key deflections and loose ball recoveries, to boot.

The one blemish: Gafford fouled out with just over two minutes to play. Foul trouble was a theme all night, as the Pistons took 27 free throws to the Bulls' 14.

D-Rose got going

Rose wasn't much a factor early, but he found his rhtythm as the game wore on. He finished the night with a team-leading 20 points and seven assists on 7-for-11 shooting (2-for-3 from deep).

It's Rose's fifth game in a row both with over 28 minutes played and 20+ points scored. For stretches, nobody could stay in front of him on drives. It's the latest in a line of solid performances for Rose against his hometown team.

Own the Pistons

So long, games against the Pistons. We’ll miss you dearly.

The Bulls finish the season series 4-0 against Detroit (meaning the Pistons account for nearly 30 percent of the Bulls’ total wins), but this one was perhaps the most-needed. The win snaps a six-game losing streak for the Bulls, vaults them (somehow) into 10th place in the Eastern Conference and 4.5 games out of the eighth seed, as of this writing.

The stretch run was especially encouraging. It wasn't Zach LaVine's most efficient night, but he poured in 25 points and six assists, going 8-for-8 from the free throw line and closing out the game with big buckets late. Lauri Markkanen had 14 points and seven rebounds, and though he only took 11 shots, he led Bulls' scorers in the fourth quarter. Ryan Arcidiacono hit a big 3. Kris Dunn had a crucial steal. The Pistons didn't go quietly into the night, but the Bulls set them aside anyway.

After this brief respite, the Celtics are next (in Boston) on Monday.

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Bulls visit Andre Drummond and Derrick Rose looking to go 4-0 vs. Pistons

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USA TODAY

Bulls visit Andre Drummond and Derrick Rose looking to go 4-0 vs. Pistons

The Bulls enter play 3-0 against the Pistons this season, but much has changed since these teams last met on Dec. 21. Here's what to watch for before the game tips at 6 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago:

Pistons’ last five (2-3)

  • Jan. 9 — L vs. Cavaliers: 115-112 (OT)

  • Jan. 7 — W at Cavaliers: 115-113

  • Jan. 5 — L at Lakers: 106-99

  • Jan. 4 — W at Warriors: 111-104

  • Jan. 2 — L at Clippers: 126-112

Storyline(s) to watch

This is the last of four meetings between these two teams in 2019-20, and the Bulls will be sad for that fact — all three so far have ended in Bulls wins, the last two of the double-digit variety. 

Tonight, the Pistons will be without Blake Griffin, who underwent knee surgery earlier this week and is without a timetable to return, and Luke Kennard, who has missed the team’s last nine games (dating back to Dec. 23) with bilateral knee and patellar tendinitis. Griffin, for what it’s worth, only played in one of their previous three meet-ups and logged just 16 points on 4-for-15 shooting.

It’s a prime opportunity for the Bulls, though shorthanded themselves without Wendell Carter Jr., to get off their current six-game schneid. Last game’s loss to Indiana was a reminder that no contest can be taken for granted, but for a team in the Bulls that maintains it’s fighting for a playoff spot, this game — against a beatable team one game ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings — is as close to a must-win as a mid-January game could be.

Player to watch: Andre Drummond

If Myles Turners’ 27 points and 14 rebounds or the Pacers 70 points on 35-for-45 shooting in the paint on Friday are an indication of what we can expect from the Bulls’ defense sans Carter, Drummond could be in for a big night. He’s the league’s leading rebounder and an absolute force down low, shooting 64.2% on 9.3 restricted area attempts (third in the NBA) per game.

Worse, he’s coming off one of his more dominant performances of the season, a 28-point, 23-rebound outing in an overtime loss to the Cavaliers (and had 23 and 20 the game before that):

 

In these teams’ last two meetings, Drummond averaged nearly three rebounds below his season average (13.5) and shot only 11-for-27 from the field. But credit Carter, who notably outworked Drummond on the offensive glass in both of those games, heavily there. Without him, the Bulls’ defense will need to adjust. 

Monitor closely how Jim Boylen opts to coach pick-and-roll coverages and how willing the Bulls are to double Drummond with a respectable cast of shooters around him (the Pistons enter tonight the fourth-best 3-point shooting team in the league by percentage alone). Even without Kennard, Svi Mykhailiuk, Langston Galloway, Tony Snell and Markieff Morris, among others, are capable of making their open ones.

Matchup to watch: Two All-Star (caliber, kinda) guards going at it

Yes, I’m talking about Zach LaVine and Derrick Rose, and no, I’m not being entirely facetious. The two are fourth and fifth among Eastern Conference backcourt players in the latest fan voting returns, after all.

LaVine, especially, is making a push. Since the beginning of December, he ranks 10th in the NBA in points per game (26.7) and is shooting 40.1% from 3 on a whopping 8.5 attempts per game. Over the Bulls’ current six-game losing streak, he’s done everything expected of him and more, averaging 29.2 points (5th in the NBA), shooting 45.7% from the field (23.3 attempts per game) and 42.6% from 3 (nine attempts). When he gets going, it’s awe-inspiring:

As for Rose, you could make a purely statistical argument that he’s putting together his best campaign since tearing his ACL in 2012. This season, he’s averaging 17.8 points in just 25.3 minutes per game, and has his best field goal percentage (48.7%), eFG% (52.8%) and assist per game (5.7) totals since missing the 2012-13 season. He’s scored over 20 points in each of the Pistons’ past four games, shooting 50% from the field on 20 attempts per game. In those four, he's also averaging 30.8 minutes per game.

Though I’ll admit to this storyline being slightly manufactured, a showdown between these two has the potential for high entertainment value — even if for sentimental reasons.

News and nuggets:

  • Lauri Markkanen has been dealing with a badly sore ankle over the team’s last three games since rolling it last week against the Celtics, which must be considered when analyzing his recent play. After pouncing on the Mavericks for 26 points in his first game after the injury, he’s averaged 12.5 points on just 36.4% shooting (11 attempts) in his last two. Boylen and teammates have lauded Markkanen’s courage and selflessness playing through the ailment, but it’s an unfortunate turn just as he seemed to be finding his stroke.

  • Jim Boylen rolled with Daniel Gafford at the starting center spot against the Pacers, but given their dominance on the interior in that game, look for if that starting unit endures tonight. Against Drummond, Boylen might not have a better option. 

  • Nineteen-year-old rookie Sekou Doumbouya has slotted into the Pistons’ starting lineup over their last five games, and he’s a lot of fun. Doumbouya is averaging 12 points and 5.8 rebounds on 48.9/38.9/70 splits in that span and has flashed some real tools, athletically and defensively.

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How Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine’s impact has led to Bulls showing signs of growth

How Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine’s impact has led to Bulls showing signs of growth

DETROIT — The Bulls’ 119-107 victory over the Pistons Saturday night actually began Wednesday night in Washington.

That’s when, to a man, the Bulls emphasized that their improbable comeback victory over the Wizards in overtime would mean nothing if they didn’t build on it.

Don’t look now, but the Bulls are actually showing growth. They took advantage of an opponent down three key players in Reggie Jackson, Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, something they failed to do with weakened opponents earlier in the season. After a disappointing close to the third quarter, they ran away and hid with an impressive fourth quarter.

And everyone knows closing games hasn’t been a strength of this season.

Their efforts were rewarded by pulling one game behind the Magic — with a Monday matchup looming in Orlando — in a loss-heavy Eastern Conference playoff picture.

“We can play with anybody if we guard,” Kris Dunn said. “That's the biggest thing, guarding and rebounding. Rebounding has been our pet peeve. But if we guard and rebound, man, I think we can be really good.”

Dunn gets the floor first because it’s hard to overlook his contribution since entering the starting lineup. The Bulls are 6-6 and rank second only to the Bucks in defensive rating since Dunn replaced the injured Chandler Hutchison.

Dunn posted nine points, four assists, three rebounds and added to his league-leading total with four steals against the Pistons. He now has at least three steals in 12 games.

“He’s a freaking dawg,” Zach LaVine said. “He’s not scared of nothing. He’s going to talk his stuff. He’s one of the best defenders out there. He takes that challenge. He brings an energy and toughness to the team. He’ll even talk to me if I’m doing something wrong. He’ll pick me up and get me going. I love everything that he does.”

Not that Dunn has had much to stay to LaVine, of late. LaVine continued his recent run of efficient play, scoring 33 points on 9-of-15 shooting and getting to the line 14 times, making 10.

LaVine has done a nice job lately not forcing action early and letting the game come to him. Then, he asserts himself as the game gets to the tauter moments, the bigger stage. He added five assists against Detroit. And while he contributed to the Bulls’ turnover bug with five of the team’s 21, his unselfish play is drawing notice.

“We’ve been talking about it. It’s almost like setting up the table. You can’t just make food and then think you’re going to eat it out of the pot,” Dunn said. “You gotta put the plates down. You gotta put the forks down. You gotta put the glasses down. That’s what he’s doing.

“He’s not scoring, scoring, scoring, scoring. That’s easy to guard. He’s getting his team involved. He’s staying aggressive and then when the fourth quarter comes, be you.”

Once again, the Bulls received multiple contributions. Tomas Satoransky reached double figures in the first 6-minutes plus and finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals. Coby White snapped out of a slump with five 3-pointers and 19 points in 17 minutes, 30 seconds.

The Bulls also won the rebounding battle — no small item against a team that employs Andre Drummond — and followed Jim Boylen’s game plan.

But Dunn, who finished plus-21, and LaVine, a plus-20, stood out.

“He helps us get organized at both ends. He’s a great communicator. He’s one of the top defenders in the league. He’s a Defensive Player of the Year candidate to me,” coach Jim Boylen said of Dunn. “He takes the challenge, moves to the next play. He has improved at the offensive end. His decision-making has improved. And he’s becoming a complete player. But his spirt and his understanding of his role and job in that lineup is what makes it for us.”

Boylen cited calmness and maturity for the Bulls staying poised after allowing back-to-back 3-pointers from Markieff Morris to trim a 10-point lead to four entering the fourth. LaVine scored 13 of the Bulls’ 26 points in the final period.

“I think it’s slowing down a little bit for me personally and I know when to take over and take shots,” LaVine said. “But recently I’ve been seeing the extra play or swinging when two guys are on me. The game is slowing down. This is the first 30 games and we haven’t played together obviously, so I think a little bit of that experience is starting to come in.

“We’re a team. With some of the tough losses we haven’t quit, really. We’re in every game. I feel like we don’t show what our record is. We’re a team that we practice hard. We understand how good we can be and how we’ve been giving up some of these leads to where we can be in a different position. We’re resilient.”

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