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):
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) January 10, 2020
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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Bulls visit Andre Drummond and Derrick Rose looking to go 4-0 vs. Pistons originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago