Detroit Injury Report:
Will Bynum: questionable (sore right hand)
Jason Maxiell: out (detached retina)
The Bulls sit one and a half games back of Brooklyn for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, with Atlanta one and a half back of Chicago. With seven games left for the Bulls, and fewer for the other two squads, it’s possible that the playoffs remain this way.
That would put Brooklyn and Chicago against each other in round one, with the Bulls likely missing out on home court advantage unless they can make up that one and a half game difference. Both the Nets and Bulls have two playoff teams left on their schedule, but Chicago probably has the advantage there.
Chicago plays the Knicks on Thursday and the Heat next Sunday. New York will be a tough game, but the Bulls are 3-0 against them this year. And Miami will probably be resting some, if not all, of the big three at that point in the season, as they already have the top spot in the East wrapped up.
Brooklyn has the Celtics and Pacers, with both coming on the road. Boston can’t rest guys, because they already have too many injuries. And depending what happens this next week, Indiana could still be fighting with the Knicks for the number two spot in the conference.
At this point in the year, playoff seeding is what really matters. The Bulls, in my opinion, have a chance to beat anyone in the East in a seven game series besides Miami. But they could also fall flat and lose to anyone in the East. It’ll probably be Brooklyn that they matchup with, and the Bulls are 3-1 against the Nets in the regular season, including 1-1 in Barclays Center.
Playoff seeding passed Detroit a long time ago, and the Pistons limp to the finish of another below .500 year. Detroit has won just two games since the beginning of March, losing 15 of 17 over that stretch. The Pistons beat Charlotte 92-91 in late March, and topped Toronto to start the month of April. But every time the Bulls meet the Pistons, it ends up as a nail biter.
If all goes as it has all season between these squads, the Bulls will fall behind, make a rally, and win by single digits. The Bulls overcame 17-point deficits in the first two contests, and then made a 13-point comeback in the most recent match-up. Chicago’s victories over Detroit have come by four, three and one point.
The Pistons are coming into this game with no rest, after losing to Minnesota last night, and giving Rick Adelman his 1,000th career victory. Brandon Knight scored 25 points on 16 shots in his 41 minutes of action, and Rodney Stuckey scored 20 off the bench as Detroit connected on 53.3 percent of their shots.
Detroit held Minnesota to 43.4 from the field, but Stuckey and company lost the turnover battle big time. Stuckey turned it over five times and the starting line-up combined for 15 turnovers. Detroit coughed it up 24 times overall, compared to 15 for the Timberwolves. Minnesota also got to the line 18 more times, making 14 more freebies.
The Pistons are 7-11 playing on no rest.
Chicago has beaten Detroit 18 straight times, dating back to December of 2008.
Detroit Injury Report:
Will Bynum: questionable (sore hand)
Brandon Knight: doubtful (sprained ankle/broken nose)
Charlie Villanueva: questionable (illness)
Up and down. Up and down. It’s the way Chicago’s season has gone. How did the Bulls follow up their thrilling win over the Miami Heat? By blowing a 12-point lead in the final four minutes of a game against Dallas.
The Bulls led 97-85 before they stopped playing offense with four minutes left. The Mavericks went on a 15-1 run while Chicago missed everything and Dirk Nowitzki came up huge.
The loss is a bad one, blowing a big lead in the final few minutes of the fourth quarter, but it isn’t horrible. The Mavericks are a good team, and they are one that is fighting for the eighth place spot in the Western Conference.
The good news for the Bulls is that they’ve won 17 straight games against the Pistons, with the last loss coming in 2008. Chicago may be looking for their 18th straight win over Detroit, but the two games this year have been close.
Chicago won by four on the road in early December, then followed it up with a three-point win at the United Center in January. The Bulls needed an enormous game from Joakim Noah to take get the win in Detroit. Jo tallied 30 points and 23 rebounds, both career highs, and something only three players had done in the past 25 seasons. The Bulls trailed by 17 points in the second quarter before coming back to take the game.
It was a similar story in Chicago. The Bulls were down 17 in this contest as well, before Nate Robinson led a fourth quarter comeback in which Chicago outscored Detroit 28-14. Robinson finished with 11 points and seven assists and Noah kept a loose ball alive to Marco Belinelli who hit the game-winning bucket.
On top of the close games this season, remember that the Bulls are still quite injured. Joakim Noah and Marco Belinelli are game-time decisions, while Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton are out.
The injuries go hand-in-hand with big minutes for those players that are still healthy. There will be some tired bodies on the second night of this back-to-back. Jimmy Butler played 44 minutes, Luol Deng recorded 41 and Carlos Boozer played 37.
But the Bulls offense has been arguable its best all year. Chicago has averaged 101.0 points per game over their last three contests, 8.0 better than their season average. During that stretch, they’ve hit 43.5 percent of their three (30-69). In the month of March, Detroit is allowing 105.3 points per contest, while scoring just 89.1. Both of those are the worst totals of the year for the Pistons. Not surprisingly, they are 1-12 in March.
Raptors Injury Report:
Alan Anderson: left Tuesday’s game (chipped tooth)
Andrea Bargnani: bruised elbow (out)
Linas Kleiza: sore knee (missed Tuesday’s game)
Jonas Valanciunas: fractured finger (out)
How will the Bulls follow up one of the best defensive performances—that was aided by some awful offense from Atlanta—in NBA history? Will they use it as a building block to finally get on track, especially in the United Center, or will it be just an impressive win scattered between disappointing losses? Well knowing the Bulls, and knowing how up and down they are, it’s really anybody’s guess.
They may come out still fired up from Tom Thibodeau ripping into them before that Hawks games, or they may fall flat, going from such a high (59 points allowed!) to some sort of low (losing to Toronto).
Take for example, three of their biggest wins this season and what they did after them.
-On December 21, the Bulls dominated the Knicks for most of the game in Madison Square Garden. The next day, Atlanta returned the favor for New York, blowing out the Bulls.
-Chicago followed its impressive win over the Heat in Miami by protecting its home court against the visiting Cavaliers.
-The Bulls went into MSG again on January 11 and got their second win of the season in that arena. They then promptly went home and lost to Phoenix, ending the Suns’ 12-game road losing streak.
For a team that used to be so consistent, the Bulls have been all over the map this year.
But it all came together against the Hawks. “Everybody was ready to go” Taj Gibson said after the win. “We ran back hard. It was the best I’ve seen our defensive transition all year. We were flying back on D and getting stops. They were frustrated. It’s one game. We hope we can build off it.”
Their first chance to build is against Toronto. The Raptors are on the second night of back-to-back, coming off of a loss to the Nets. Brooklyn won its seventh straight game, behind 22 points from Brook Lopez and 21 each by Deron Williams and Joe Johnson.
Kyle Lowry was Toronto’s high-scorer, finishing with 21 points on seven field goals off the bench (19 of those points came in the fourth quarter). Amir Johnson added 15 off the pine, while Jose Calderon led the starters with 15 points. The Raptors shot quite well actually, finishing 48.8 from the field, 53.8 (7-13) from three and 82.6 (19-23) from the line.
What did Toronto in were its uncharacteristic turnovers. They rank second in turnover percentage (.122) and were ninth in opponent turnover percentage (.139) heading into that game. But the Raps turned it over eight more times (14-6) than Brooklyn. And the Nets capitalized, scoring 24 points off of Toronto’s 14 giveaways, while the Raptors scored just eight points off of Brooklyn’s mishaps.
Getting a win in Toronto would be a nice step, as the Bulls next three games come against tough opponents in the Celtics, Grizzlies and Lakers. The last two of those match-ups are in Chicago, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, considering the Bulls’ 11-10 home record.
“We have to play with great intensity all the time,” Tom Thibodeau said. “You can’t relax, never exhale. We have to grind and fight. We have to do it day after day.” Day Two is today.
Let me be frank: When your opponent shoots over 54 percent and (according to the game recap) sets a new franchise high for points scored, chances are you didn’t win the ballgame. And the Bulls did not, dropping a 134-129 overtime decision to the Raptors in Toronto.
It’s called “a hand in the face,” guys. Try it.
Somewhat ironically, Neil Funk and Stacey King began today’s broadcast by noting that defense was the foundation of Chicago’s recently improved play. I couldn’t help but think, “Isn’t this the same team that let Pacers rookie Brandon Rush light them up for a career-high 29 points yesterday?” But hey, they’re the ones who get paid to call the games. I just blog about them.
Nonetheless, I guess it was just Chicago’s weekend to surrender career-highs, as Toronto’s Jose Calderon established a personal best by dishing out 19 assists, which matched Damon Stoudamire’s franchise-high. Maybe the Bulls were worn down by a hectic schedule — they’ve played six games in the last nine days — or maybe they didn’t expect the second-worst team in their conference to shoot lights out, but the Raptors hit a better percentage on jumpers (31-for-56) than layups (12-for-25). So kudos on your inside D, guys. But as for the perimeter defense…well, like I said, it’s called “a hand in the face” for a reason.
Even when the Bulls rallied back in the fourth quarter after falling behind 103-86 with 8:05 left to play, the Raptors still put up 29 points in the period. So the comeback was fueled more by offense (hence the 42-point outburst) than defense. And that’s what doomed the Bulls in overtime.
Derrick Rose had just put Chicago up by a point (127-126) with 29 ticks left in the extra session. After Toronto called timeout, Vinny Del Negro subbed in a cold Joakim Noah to check Chris Bosh (31 points, 15 boards). Noah must have forgotten that Bosh is a lefty, because he gave Chris the left-handed drive. Bosh got to the basket with frightening ease, and even though he bonked the the layup, he had beaten Joakim so badly that he easily grabbed the offensive rebound and put it in. Even worse, Rose fouled him on the attempt. Bosh hit the free throw to complete the three-point play, putting the Raptors up 129-127 with 14 seconds left.
Now it’s worth noting at this point that John Salmons didn’t get any daylight down the stretch or in overtime. According to Vinny, it was because John was suffering the effects of a ”tight groin.” But the Bulls missed him in the clutch. Not so much because he was shooting all that well — he finished 3-for-7 from the field — but because he’s a scoring threat from outside and on the drive. Without Salmons in the game, Toronto’s D had a tactical advantage. They were able to double and collapse and harass Rose and Gordon into giving up the ball. Sometimes to the wrong team.
And so it was that, after Bosh’s three-point play, Rose drove into the paint and drew three defenders, leaving Tyrus Thomas alone underneath the basket (and Brad Miller unguarded from 15 feet out, for that matter). Derrick tried to slip the ball through the triple-team, but it got snatched away. Chicago was forced to foul Andrea Bargnani (28 points, 10-for-20), who nailed both foul shots, effectively putting the game out of reach.
Said Rose: “I thought I had an opening to pass the ball to Tyrus [Thomas] and one of their guys tipped the ball and I lost it. It’s disappointing and that’s why I’ll put this game on me tonight.”
In all fairness to Derrick, the game wasn’t lost on that play. It was lost on the defensive end. Let’s face it, when a team hits 55 percent of its shots…offense is not the problem. Which means it’s either time to commit to both ends of the court or invest in an inflatable defender.
The net result: The Bulls went from seventh to eighth — just like that! — and are now one game behind the Pistons for seventh and two games ahead of the Bobcats.
Player notes: Gordon was a one-man wrecking crew, scoring a game-high 37 points on 15-for-26 shooting, not to mention the clutch 22-footer at the fourth-quarter buzzer that forced overtime. Strangely, BG ended up with a plus-minus score of -6. Huh. Rose had 23 points (9-for-13) and a team-high 9 assists. Noah put up 16 on near-perfect shooting (8-for-10), which can happen when all of your shots come within five feet. Speaking of which, Tyrus was back to his old tricks, going 2-for-8 from the outside (and, sadly, only 1-for-3 on layups). Ty did have a game-high 4 blocks, though. Miller provided some nice off-the-bench productivity with 14 points (6-for-10), 10 boards, 5 assists and the highest plus-minus score on the team (+7).
The result: The Raptors (17-28) snapped their seven-game losing streak at the Bulls’ (18-26) expense, blowing the home team out by the score of 114-94.
The good: Well…the earth didn’t open up and swallow the Bulls. So there’s that, I guess. Oh, and Tyrus had a highlight reel dunk over Jermaine O’Neal:
The bad: Suffering their fourth straight defeat in a 20-point home blowout (by a team that had lost seven straight) right before starting a seven-game Western Conference road trip. Letting the Raptors shoot almost 57 percent from the field for the game. Failing to get a hand in the face (or anywhere in the general vicinity) of the freshly-returned-from-injury Jose Calderon, who had a “John Stockton on steroids” game (23 points on 9-of-10 shooting and 10 assists). Missing nine free throws (22-for-31).
The ugly: Getting outscored 23-4 in the final 6:19 after being down only 91-90. The 23 turnovers that translated into 27 bonus points for the Raptors. Joakim Noah, who’s Greg Kite-like performance (zero points, 0-for-0 from the field, 0-for-2 at the line, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 turnovers and 6 fouls in 14 minutes) brought the boo-birds out of the United Center rafters.
Coaching wisdom: Said Vinny D: “I thought our energy to start the third quarter was not good. We are not good enough to do that. We have to play with high energy and play together.”