Entering this season, the Detroit Pistons had earned a reputation as established title contenders, and the up-and-coming Chicago Bulls were expected to join them near the top of the Eastern Conference.
Only Detroit has performed as expected - just not against Chicago.
The disappointing Bulls look to sweep a season series from the first-place Pistons for the first time in 12 years as the Central Division rivals square off in Detroit on Sunday.
Chicago won 49 regular-season games and a playoff series last season, both firsts for the franchise since Michael Jordan left the team for good after its third straight championship in 1998. However, the Bulls (25-37) already have exceeded their loss total from last season, and are currently outside the playoff picture in the shallow East.
The Pistons (45-17), meanwhile, have maintained their hold on one of the top spots in the conference. They have finished in the top three in each of the last six seasons and currently have the second-best record in the league, trailing only Boston.
Detroit, however, has not had any success this season against the Bulls, who have won the first three matchups, including a 97-81 home victory when the teams last met on Jan. 19.
"We know they are really tough," Chicago guard Ben Gordon said of the Pistons after that game. "Thing is, we have a lot of respect for them, so we come out and try to play our 'A' game."
Detroit, averaging 98.1 points and shooting 45.7 percent from the field this season, has scored only 88.3 points per game and shot 41.4 percent against Chicago. The Pistons eliminated the Bulls in the second round of the playoffs in six games in May, but are just 1-6 against them in the regular season since the beginning of 2006-07.
"I don't know what it is, but in the regular season, the last couple of years, they've really have kind of had our number," Detroit point guard Chauncey Billups said.
The Bulls are looking for their first season series sweep of the Pistons since 1995-96, when Chicago won all four meetings en route to a league-record 72 wins and an NBA title.
To complete the sweep, the Bulls will likely need a better performance than they had Friday. They shot 31.8 percent and were outrebounded 55-35 in their 116-93 loss at Boston.
"We were fatigued and they beat us up on the glass," interim coach Jim Boylan said. "We just didn't seem to have an answer for them."
Despite their frustrations this season, the Bulls remain hopeful they'll be able to sneak into the playoffs, where a first-round meeting with the Pistons is a possibility.
"If we get into the eighth spot, it's going to be fun," guard Larry Hughes said. "But we have to win some games and we can't rely, coming into the last week of the season, on teams losing."
The Pistons won't need to depend on other teams losing as they can clinch a playoff berth with their next win.
Detroit beat New York 101-97 on Friday despite playing most of the game without two of its starters. Richard Hamilton, the team's leading scorer at 17.8 points per game, was ejected in the first half, and Rasheed Wallace missed the contest with a sprained left ankle.
While Hamilton will be back in the lineup against Chicago, Wallace's status is uncertain and he remains listed as day-to-day.
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