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.