Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Pistons (04.11.18)

Tonight the Bulls and the Detroit Pistons close out the 2017-18 season by battling each other for a fourth and final time. Chicago captured the opening round of the series, 107-105, at the United Center back on January 13th. Bulls' rookie Lauri Markkanen led a balanced Chicago with 19 points, including shooting 4-of-7 from downtown. Zach LaVine also made his season debut, and in 19 minutes posted 14 points, going 3-of-4 from long distance. Motown All-Star pivot Andre Drummond recorded a double-double with 21 points and 15 rebounds.

The Bulls then fell to the Pistons in the second and third meetings, each played in Detroit. Pistons forward Blake Griffin went off for 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, while Reggie Bullock added 21 points and Drummond once again dominated on the glass with 17 rebounds to lead Detroit to a 99-83 victory. Cameron Payne led the Bulls with 17 points, while Kris Dunn was the only other Chicagoan to reach double figures with 13.

In the third matchup, the outcome was decided very early as the Pistons came out firing from the jump and never cooled off, running away with a 117-95 victory. Motown's Anthony Tolliver notched a season-high 25 points as the Pistons connected on 13 3-pointers in the opening half alone. When it was all said and done, Drummond had posted another double-double with 15 points and 20 rebounds, while Denzel Valentine led the way for the Bulls with 18 points.

As for tonight's contest, both the Bulls and Pistons will take the floor shorthanded. Chicago's Kris Dunn (right toe sprain), Zach LaVine (left patellar tendinitis), Denzel Valentine (left knee surgery), Antonio Blakeney (left wrist fracture), Paul Zipser (left foot pain) and Noah Vonleh (left calf strain) are out of action. With regards to Detroit, Reggie Bullock (left knee swelling), Blake Griffin (right ankle bone bruise) and Jon Leuer (left ankle surgery) are out as well while Drummond (sore Achilles) has been listed as doubtful.

A major key to winning for the Bulls each contest is their ability to defend the paint and control the boards at both ends of the court. In order for Chicago to succeed they have to establish themselves as aggressors' right from the opening tip. Defensively, they must sport a hardnosed attitude and go all out for every rebound and be willing to dive and fight for every loose ball.

To that end, Chicago will need to surpass Detroit's energy from the moment both squads walk out onto the court. The Bulls are at their best when they play fast and look to strike quickly. They need to crash the boards hard and in order to speed up the game and get out on the break at every opportunity.

In order for the Bulls succeed they also must do a great job of sharing the ball, skipping it from one side of the court to the other and from player to player. Much like the Pistons will do, Chicago also needs to evenly space shooters all along the 3-point arc to cajole the defense to focus its attention onto the perimeter. As soon as Detroit moves away from the paint to defend the arc, the Bulls primary ballhandlers — Cameron Payne, Jerian Grant, David Nwaba, Justin Holiday and Sean Kilpatrick, need to attack by relentlessly driving the ball deep into the paint to force the defense to overplay. If the Pistons, collectively, slide back down under the hoop and/or attempt to trap or double-team, Chicago's attackers must adjust by getting the ball to an open teammate hovering out on the perimeter for an uncontested look at the hoop.

By and large, the Bulls try to take between 85-to-90 shots each game, with 30-or-more coming from beyond the 3-point arc. In order to achieve those goals they have to crisply move the ball up the court and force the defense to chase and spend extra energy.

Thus Chicago's primary mission is to be aggressive right away and never relent. Defensively thy have to play with a hardnosed mindset, and refuse to grant Detroit free reign to roam the paint and/or launch uncontested shots from behind the arc. Principally, Chicago has to commit to outhustling and outworking Detroit in every way.