Keys to the Game: Bulls at Pistons (12/21/2019)

The Bulls stop by Motown this evening to catch up with their longtime Central Division rivals the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena. Tonight's contest will be the third overall between the teams this season, but first in Detroit. Chicago won each of the earlier matchups played at the United Center, 112-106 on November 1st, and 109-89 on November 20th.

Zach LaVine led all scorers in the first get-together with 26 points, while Wendell Carter Jr. posted a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds. Big man Andre Drummond's sparked the Pistons with a double-double of own with 25 points and 24 rebounds.

In the second go-round Chicago jumped out to a 19-6 advantage midway through the first frame, but Detroit battled back with a 13-2 run to knot the score at 30 after 12 minutes. However, not long afterwards the Bull took the lead for good, never trailing after the 10:31 mark in the second, on their way to capturing the 30-point victory.

Chicago forward Lauri Markkanen notched a game-high 23 points, while Shaq Harrison chipped in 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Wendell Carter Jr. posted another double-double of 12 points and 15 rebounds. Former Bulls All-Star Derrick Rose came off the bench to lead Detroit with 18 points, while Blake Griffin added 16 and eight rebounds.

Chicago returns to action tonight after rallying to claim an exciting 110-109 overtime road victory over Washington on Wednesday.

Down 93-75 with just 8:21 left to play, LaVine capped a 21-3 Chicago run with three free throws to tie the game at 96 with 5.5 seconds left. Washington's Bradley Beal then hit a clutch jumper with 0.5 seconds remaining to put the Wizards up 98-96, but LaVine once again stepped up in a big way, drawing a foul on the ensuing inbound play and knocked down two more free throws to force OT.

Lauri Markkanen's alley-oop dunk gave the Bulls their first lead since the opening quarter, 106-105 with 1:47 left in overtime. But Beal connected on a pair of free throws to put the Wiz back on top, and Isaiah Thomas stretched DC's lead to 109-106 with another pair of charity tosses with 53 seconds left. Wendell Carter Jr. returned the favor at the other end of the floor with two free throws of his own, and later scored the game winning bucket with 9.1 seconds left in OT to complete Chicago's improbable comeback, thwarting the Wizards on their home floor. Markkanen led the way with 31 points and nine rebounds, while LaVine added 24.

As for Detroit, the came into this year feeling confident about their chances to make the playoffs. And why wouldn't they with the likes of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond forming a formidable starting duo down low, along with the addition of a former NBA MVP in Derrick Rose coming off the bench? Nevertheless, the ball just hasn't bounced the Pistons way, as entering their game last night in Boston, Detroit had managed only 11 wins in 28 games.

Heading into yesterday's date with Boston the Pistons were coming off one of their worst offensive showings Wednesday night, falling 112-99 at home to Toronto. Although Drummond was his usual dominating self with 22 points and 18 rebounds, and Rose chipped in 16 more points off the bench, Detroit hit just 6 of 35 attempts (17.1%) from behind the 3-point arc to lose their second straight and third game in their last four outings.

For the Bulls to capture this evening's contest they're going to need to produce a hardnosed, blue-collar effort, both offensively and defensively.

Since tonight will be the second part of a back-to-back set for Detroit, it would be a good idea for Chicago to come out of the gates running, establishing a fast pace from the opening tip.

To achieve success the Bulls must play unselfishly, sharing the ball with one another, skipping it from player-to-player and from side-to-side, while also aggressively exploiting every opportunity to drive the ball to the front of the rim to force defenses onto their collective heels.

All five Bulls must stay involved in the action at both ends of the court. Offensively the ball simply can't get stuck in any one player's hands. The offense can't turn into a series of isolation, one-on-one contests.

Defensively Chicago must deliver a rugged effort with everyone sticking close to their assigned man without fouling. Collectively, they also must go all out for every rebound and loose ball.

Although the Bulls, like the Pistons have only posted 11 victories so far, Chicago's defense has made some important strides this season. The Bulls rank first in the league in deflections (17.5 per game), forcing opponent turnovers (18.6), and scoring off opponent turnovers (22.0).

To end up as the last team standing tonight Chicago will need to continue along this path by quickly recognizing when the right time arrives to aggressively jump passing lanes and double-team the ball.