On a night when the Bulls — who have been a notoriously awful scoring team all season — set season-highs in points (120), field goal percentage (57.1) and margin of victory (33), it’s worth asking the question: was the end result a function of the Bulls rising or merely a sign of how far the Pistons have fallen?
Or was it a little of Column A and a little of Column B?
The Pistons had been one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference for most of the 2000s. Then Joe Dumars sent Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess to Denver in exchange for Allen Iverson and everything went to hell. But the experts insisted the trade that exiled Detroit’s heart and soul was part of Dumars’ master plan to rebuild the Pistons on the quick…a plan that culminated in him spending $90 million on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva last summer.
So far that plan has been a miserable failure.
Last night’s blowout was Detroit’s worst loss of the season, both because it set a season-high for margin of defeat and because it increased their losing streak to 13. That’s the most consecutive losses the Pistons have had since the end of the 1993-94 season. There are mitigating circumstances, of course. Detroit has had a rash of injuries to key players. Tayshaun Prince didn’t play last night, and Ben Gordon logged only six minutes because of a recurring hamstring injury.
Speaking of which, Gordon and Villanueva — Dumars’ big offseason acquisitions — combined to score 2 points on 1-for-11 shooting. Do you think Pistons fans want their $90 million back? I bet Dumars sure does.
And make no mistake: the Bulls must not become the Pistons. And I’m not talking about this season’s implosion. I’m talking about next summer, when Chicago will have lots of money to throw at free agents. The Bulls absolutely must not spend foolishly if they cannot lure a big-time FA to the Windy City. Detroit is now a blueprint for what a team should not do with a financial windfall.
Meanwhile…are the Bulls finally finding themselves? They have now back-to-back blowout wins at home against a couple of the league’s worst teams, so their scoring surplus over the last two games is probably a bit deceiving. However, they were trending upward even before the Timberwolves and Pistons came to town.
After scoring 100 or more only three times in their first 28 games, the Bulls have now scored 100+ five times in the last eight games (plus a 98-point game in Detroit against the Pistons). Their three-point shooting is picking up too, as the Bulls have hit 45 percent of their treys (42-for-93) over the last eight games. And John Salmons has been on fire, hitting nearly 60 percent of his three-pointers (19-for-32) in the nine games since he was removed from the starting lineup.
Derrick Rose has been lighting it up, too, by both scoring and dishing off to teammates. Last night, he finished with 22 poings (11-for-13) and a game-high 9 assists. Rose has now scored 20+ points in 11 of his last 18 games. And maybe even more importantly, he’s compiled at least 7 assists in the last six games, including three games with 9 assists. He hasn’t exactly transformed into Steve Nash, but both the quantity and quality of his passes have increased as of late.
The Bulls have won six of their last nine contests, and the three losses were close games they could have won. So what’s up with the improved play?
Said Vinny Del Negro: “We have Tyrus [Thomas] and Kirk [Hinrich] back and we’ve had some practice time together. Guys know their role off the bench because we have our rotation set with guys helping. And the schedule has been more in our favor.”
Sounds simple enough.
The schedule won’t be in Chicago’s favor for long though. The Bulls now face a stretch where they play 10 of their next 12 games on the road, and they will face the Celtics, Suns, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder, and Hawks in that span. It’s going to be rough. Maybe even very rough.
But then again, we might be seeing signs of good things for the Bulls.