Tonight at 7:00pm EST the Pistons will be hosting the Chicago Bulls at the LCA for their last home game before a long west coast trip. Both teams are on one day of rest. The Pistons lost to the Raptors last time out, while the Bulls beat the Grizzlies.
The Bulls are bad again. Gone are the couple of weeks where they won a bunch of games. The Bulls come in featuring the 28th best offensive efficiency in the NBA by scoring 101.4 points per 100 possessions and the 25th defensive efficiency by allowing 108.4 points per 100 possessions. And remember that both of those numbers got boosts during that winning streak and have since gone back down. The Bulls are very bad.
All that said, there is a foundation here that could maybe work. They have tried a bunch of different lineups lately, but the last couple of games they've started with Bobby Portis and Lauri Markkanen up front, which is a spacey front-court and combines with Zach LaVine's killer slashing to be intriguing long term. Of course those lineups defend on one but that's how things go with young teams.
Regardless, Lauri Markkanen is tall and can really shoot the ball. He doesn't do a lot of defending and has a lot of refining to do to other parts of his offensive game, but tall dudes who can shoot like that are always problems to defend. Zach Lavine has shot the ball pretty well from deep but he has struggled a bit in other areas, although the Bulls certainly have to be happy with how he's looked coming off such a serious injury. Kris Dunn can defend, and is just barely at or over most levels of competence offensively which is a big improvement from his awful rookie season. Justin Holiday can shoot threes, but not much else. Bobby Portis can shoot and score in the post a bit, although he is still a kind of tricky fit. Denzel Valentine can shoot. David Nwaba is a personal favorite and its a shame that he's wasting away on such a bad team, he doesn't really offense so much but is a terror on defense and I seriously wish the Pistons had tried to snag him on the cheap or try to do so this off-season. Cristiano Felicio is big and bouncy. Cameron Payne is very bad, Noah Vonleh is still kicking around and should give Pistons fans some peace of mind about their lack of pick this year, because last time the Pistons didn't have their first round pick they missed out on Noah Vonleh. I'm not sure if Robin Lopez will play at all, the league apparently issued a warning about it but he still hasn't played recently so I have no idea.
This team is very bad. When they have Nwaba, Dunn, and Felicio (or Robin Lopez) on the floor they have some outlining of competent defense, and when they have Markkanen, Portis, and LaVine on the floor they have some outlining of competent offense. They are not total pushovers, but they are pretty close.
Matchups to watch:
Pistons front-court vs. Bulls front-court: To be clear, the Pistons should have a big advantage no matter what. But if the Bulls go with the Portis/Markkanen look up front it will provide a challenge to the Pistons. Drummond and Griffin would have to respect the shooting and be out of the paint a lot. On the other hand, the thought of Markkanen trying to box out Andre Drummond does put a smile on my face.
Pistons vs. Zach Lavine: LaVine can still score in bunches and in various ways. Markkanen's shooting is probably the scariest thing on the Bulls right now, but if the Pistons can keep LaVine in place then the Bulls have basically no off the bounce punch.
Pistons vs. Hitting open shots: Especially if Robin Lopez is indeed done this seasons, the Bulls are TERRIBLE defensively. The Pistons will get open looks. If the Pistons do not score a ton of points they will have no one to blame but themselves.
The Pistons vs. Sticking to shooters: It is well documented at this point that the Pistons have not defended the three well lately. Griffin and Smith especially. The Bulls are bad, but they are able to throw out lineups with a ton of shooting. Once again, the starting lineup they used last time out featured 4 guys shooting over 35% from deep, and the 5th is Kris Dunn at 33%. If the Pistons let shooters get open the Bulls have enough good shooters that they could be trouble, but that's really the only way.
Pistons vs. Going for it: I'm not getting my hopes up, I've said as much. But my assumption has remained that to have a chance at making the playoffs the Pistons would need to get at least 42 wins. That means they have 4 more losses allowed this season, a tall task, but the schedule is not exactly filled with terrifying teams the rest of the way. (though it does have a lot of road games) If the Pistons want to make the playoffs they cannot lose this game, for two reasons. First off, they have four losses left and this can't be one of them. Second off, if they want to be able to go on that kind of run to finish the year then they have to be good enough to take care of business tonight. If they can't beat this Bulls team, then even if Reggie Jackson comes back firing they probably have too many problems to fix this year.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
Blake Griffin is scoring on whoever the Bulls throw at him.
The Pistons have a borderline layup line.
The Bulls are not generating much on offense as LaVine is contained.
Run for the hills if:
The Bulls start hitting lots of threes.
The Pistons are missing shots everywhere.
The game is close in the 4th quarter.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond get lots of points and rebounds.
Markkanen does score some points.
The Bulls struggle to create much offensive flow.
The Bulls have no answer for Griffin and Drummond and the Pistons get a blowout victory.
Pistons 122 – Bulls 100.
What do you think? Can the Pistons stick with shooters? Can they take care of business?