Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Pistons (02.17.21)

The Chicago Bulls make a surprise trip home in what was supposed to be the middle game of the three-game road trek this evening to take on their longtime Central Division rivals, the Detroit Pistons for the first time in 2020-21.

Both Chicago and Detroit were scheduled to face other opponents, but in this age of COVID-19, everything is fluid, including NBA schedules. The Bulls were to visit Charlotte for the second time this season to take on the Hornets, while the Pistons were set to meet up with the San Antonio Spurs in Motown, but both Charlotte and San Antonio have temporarily been placed in lockdown due to the virus. So instead of letting an open date for both the Bulls and Pistons escape, the NBA jumped in and scheduled tonight's contest at the United Center.

Fans can catch tonight's action on TV and radio (NBC Sports Chicago / WSCR-AM 670 / TUDN, Univision 1200AM) beginning at 7:00 PM.

The Bulls hit the hardwood on a high note after knocking off the Indiana Pacers in overtime down in Indy on Monday, 120-112. Once again Zach LaVine was Chicago's leading man with a game-high 30 points, including a dozen posted in the fourth quarter to send the game to OT.

But this wasn't a one-man show, as LaVine got plenty of help from teammates Coby White (19 points, eight assists, seven rebounds), Thaddeus Young (13 points, 11 rebounds), Garrett Temple (16 points), Wendell Carter Jr. (11 points, nine rebounds), and Denzel Valentine (11 points, five scored in OT). The victory snapped a 10-game losing streak to the Pacers, including eight straight played in Indy.

As for the Pistons, they're also riding a wave of momentum as they hit town on a two-game winning streak after caging the New Orleans Pelicans, 123-112, Sunday in Detroit. Veteran big man Mason Plumlee, who starts in the middle for the Pistons this season, recorded his first career triple double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Forward Josh Jackson came off the bench to lead Detroit in scoring with 21, and fellow Pistons reserve, Svi Mykhailiuk added 18.

Detroit enjoyed a balanced attack as six players scored in double digits. The team also did a great job of sharing the ball, registering 34 assists on 45 made field goals. Rookie Saddiq Bey, who starts at small forward, contributed 16 points and six assists, while starting shooting guard, Delon Wright chipped in 17 and six dimes as well. Free agent pickup Jerami Grant also added 15 points in the winning effort.

Without a doubt, a primary key for the Bulls each and every game is how well they're able to keep turnovers in check while at the same time freely share the ball with each other. Chicago got off to a bad start in this department earlier, turning the ball over at a ridiculous pace of almost 20 times a game. But over their last 10 outings, the Bulls have cut down the sloppiness to a far more reasonable 13.5 per game.

For Chicago's offense to flow, the ball needs to jump from player-to-player and from side-to-side. Quick, decisive passing forces defenses to scramble and oftentimes breakdown. Heady passing also opens driving lanes for rim-rattling dunks and back breaking layups, as well as wide open looks at the hoop from outside.

No team can ever afford to simply stand around and watch one player take on the defense all by himself. There must be steady player and ball movement, in and out of the paint, in order to generate an effective offensive rhythm.

So, as much fun as it was to beat Indiana the other night, the Bulls will need to show up zeroed in and reenergized for another tough fight. They have to produce a hardnosed effort on both sides of the ball, and especially when it comes to working the glass, and denying the Pistons easy scores down low.

A principal key for the Bulls is to always run downhill and play fast. The team is at its best when the pace is speedy, and the team's wealth of athleticism is allowed to run down the court and search out easy scores in transition. Not many teams can match Chicago's overall speed and flash, and in particular that of LaVine and White when they're able to pick up a full head of steam.

Another important aspect of the game the Bulls need to keep perfecting is its ability to effectively communicate, and work together both offensively and defensively. As the season has progressed, Chicago has really taken steps forward in these areas. In order to become a legitimate playoff contender, they'll need to continue down that same path.

All-in-all, the Pistons have had a tough go of it as they sport the worst record in the Eastern Conference at 8-19 coming into tonight's contest. However, as talked about earlier, they have won two straight, and their team defense has recently picked up. Offensively, they also proved capable of shooting the ball from deep (Detroit was 17/35 – 48.6% - from behind the arc vs. New Orleans) if given a chance. They also do a solid job of getting to the charity stripe, ranking 4th, and 5th respectively in made free throws and attempts per game.

In order to come out on top, the Bulls must bring desire, and the willingness and grit to out hustle Detroit in every phase. Every possession matters. Every shot matters. Every rebound opportunity matters. Teams that want it the most are the ones that succeed.

Chicago will have to pay close attention to the 3-point arc, as well as collectively hit the boards hard at both ends of the floor. They need to punish the Pistons under the hoop by ruling the paint right away and hold onto that edge all night long.

If they battle in every way and continue to grow as a team, there's a good chance the Bulls can come away with another victory.