Blake Griffin

Three keys for Bulls against Pistons: Casey brings direction to talented Pistons core

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USA TODAY

Three keys for Bulls against Pistons: Casey brings direction to talented Pistons core

When last we saw the Pistons, Blake Griffin forced Zach LaVine to lose the ball as he was attempting a potential game-winning 3-pointer in the home-opener on Oct. 20, and yes, close losses have become a disturbing trend during the Bulls’ 5-17 start.

But while basketball fans in Chicago anxiously await the return of three of the team’s top six players from injury (Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis), fans in Motown are looking forward to a return to postseason play under first-year head coach Dwane Casey.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Pistons currently own the No. 5 seed in the East with an 11-7 record and they’ve won seven of their last 10 games. Blake Griffin seems to have fully embraced his move to the Midwest and is determined to re-establish himself as a top-20 player in the NBA, averaging 25 points, nearly 10 rebounds and five assists per game.

Similar story with co-stars Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. Drummond appears to be headed to his second straight All-Star Game, leading the league in rebounding with 16 per game, while also averaging 18.7 points. Jackson is 100-percent recovered from an ankle injury that wrecked his 2017-18 season, averaging 16 points and 4.2 assists per game.

Casey has been forced to juggle the other spots in his starting lineup because of an injury to second-year guard Luke Kennard, but Reggie Bullock has done a solid job at shooting guard with athletic wings Stanley Johnson and Glenn Robinson III holding down the fort at the small forward spot.

Detroit might not have the deepest roster in the East, but Ish Smith has been giving Casey quality minutes at the back-up point guard spot, and with two likely All Stars on the roster, the Pistons should easily be good enough to claim one of the conference’s eight playoff spots.

In that first meeting at the United Center, the Bulls put up 116 points, led by LaVine’s 33 on 12-of-21 shooting from the field. Justin Holiday chipped in 19 points, while Cam Payne added 17 in a starting role.

Problem is, none of the Bulls’ point guards could do anything with Smith, who scored all 15 of his points in the second half, including the game-winning basket on a blown defensive coverage with the score tied and only 5.4 seconds remaining.

So, how can the Bulls flip the script Friday night in Detroit?

1. Defend the 3-point line. The Pistons really hurt the Bulls from beyond the arc in the first meeting, hitting 18 of their 40 attempts, including a 5-for-7 effort from Griffin, who has dramatically improved his long-range shooting over the last couple seasons. Detroit’s point guards, Jackson and Smith, combined to go for 7-for-12 on 3s, as well.

2. Keep Drummond off the glass. Drummond seems to have some of his best rebounding games against the Bulls, including a number of 20-plus efforts. Wendell Carter Jr. has struggled to stay out of foul trouble over the last half dozen games, so look for Robin Lopez to get more playing time against Drummond on Friday, especially after his season-high 17-point performance in Milwaukee.

3. Archie plays Motown. All of a sudden, Ryan Arcidiacono has emerged as a solid complementary scorer to LaVine in the Bulls’ backcourt, with back-to-back career-high 22-point performances. Arcidiacono became only the third Bulls player to record five made 3-pointers and five steals in a single game, with Nikola Mirotic and Brent Barry the other members of the unlikely trio. Archie will try to get the better of his matchup with Jackson on Friday night.

It will be an early 6 p.m. start, so we hope you’ll join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue and I for Bulls Pregame Live at 5:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app. Then after the game broadcast ends on WGN, flip back to NBC Sports Chicago for reaction and analysis on Bulls Postgame Live, followed by the always entertaining Bulls Outsiders.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

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.

Space Jam: Jimmy Butler joins Blake Griffin in the fight against the Monstars

Space Jam: Jimmy Butler joins Blake Griffin in the fight against the Monstars

Jimmy Butler is in the new Space Jam movie.

Of course, the new Space Jam movie is just a 90-second spot from the Jordan brand in the latest marketing campaign, but the Bulls superstar has joined the fight against the Monstars just after the feature-length film celebrated its 20th anniversary.

In anticipation of the Space Jam shoe line debuting on Dec. 3, the Jordan Brand has called in the big guns, getting Butler and Blake Griffin to help with promotion.

Butler was featured in a mini preview on Monday, where he expressed his disdain for super teams and the Monstars:

Monstars can't keep us down.

Posted by Jordan on Monday, November 28, 2016

Then on Thursday morning, Butler serves as narrator leading into the battle with the Monstars in the 90-second ad:

Defy the Monstars. Blake Griffin and Jimmy Butler are ready to take the game back.

Posted by Jordan on Thursday, December 1, 2016

"It's the same story it's always been," said Butler, wearing his sunglasses at night. "There's the heroes and there's the villians."

That leads into four kids being forced into action against the Monstars, where they run into Bugs Bunny — "What's up, Jocks?" — and a superhero Griffin, who joins the foray.

"I hate Monstars," Butler says as he spray-paints "Defy" on a wall covered with Monstars propaganda.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

It's an awesome marketing campaign that strikes at the heart of a younger generation while also inciting nostalgia from those who grew up with "Space Jam" as an integral part of their childhood.

Butler was among the crowd raised on Michael Jordan's Hollywood megahit.

“From that first scene, when young MJ is shooting in the backyard and he jumps up and the shot cuts over,” Butler told Sports Illustrated. “I wanted to do that. I mimicked it a thousand times whenever I saw a hoop. That movie was just big. You can reach your dreams if you dream big enough.”