Andre Drummond

Daniel Gafford, Luke Kornet key resilient Bulls frontcourt in win over Pistons

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USA Today

Daniel Gafford, Luke Kornet key resilient Bulls frontcourt in win over Pistons

DETROIT — Zach LaVine calls Luke Kornet “The Big Stretch.”

“All he does is stretch,” LaVine said, laughing. “Look at him.”

Indeed, there Kornet was, rolling on an exercise ball in the locker room after the Bulls snapped their six-game losing streak and swept the four-game season series from the Pistons with a 108-99 victory.

One night after allowing 70 points in the paint and ruing the extended absence of Wendell Carter Jr. to a sprained right ankle, the Bulls got plenty of production from the center position.

Kornet showed he can be a big stretch in a different way, stretching the floor with three 3-pointers en route to a season-high 15 points in a season-high 25 minutes. And Daniel Gafford, in his second NBA start, stuffed the box score with 14 points, seven rebounds and a block before fouling out with 2:10 left.

But Gafford’s matchup had left well earlier. Andre Drummond got ejected for throwing the ball at Gafford’s head after Gafford scored and taunted the Pistons’ All-Star center, prompting a double technical foul.

“I mean, you know I’m not just going to come out and have a guy bigger than me bully me. I understand you have the size on you. But I’m not going to back down from a challenge,” Gafford said. “I like challenges whether I succeed or fail. Tonight, I succeeded. And I’m pretty sure he knows that.”

That’s strong talk from a second-round pick who has proven time and again he’s not afraid of the moment. The Bulls blocked six shots overall, two by Kornet, and allowed only 48 points in the paint.

Kornet finished plus-20.

“I don’t think I was necessarily surprised,” Kornet said of his extended minutes. “With Wendell out, we need people to step up. You have to do your best to stay ready.

“The beginning of the season was really disappointing and difficult, going through some stuff. It’s good to help the team because that’s what I was brought here to do.”

Indeed, Kornet played ineffectively to start the season before succumbing to sinus surgery. Gafford then leapfrogged him in the rotation.

Now, with Carter out four to six weeks, both centers are looking at fresh starts.

“I didn’t carry anything over from (Friday) night. That was somewhat of a bad game for me. I was doing a lot of things on defense that I don’t do personally,” Gafford said. “I wanted to have a different look on it. I wanted to be more efficient.”

He was. And so was Kornet.

“Luke Kornet was brought here because of his character,” coach Jim Boylen said. “He had a very difficult October and November and December. And he kept working. And he battled through. We felt he was guy who could play in the pocket. He could also pop and shoot. He’s a very good passer. And he can rim protect. He had two blocks. I’m really happy for Luke. He’s really been grinding.”

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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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What to watch for: Bulls face Andre Drummond and Detroit Pistons

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USA TODAY

What to watch for: Bulls face Andre Drummond and Detroit Pistons

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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