How much can one win change the short-term course of a team?
That’s the answer the Bulls will provide as they tackle the Detroit Pistons two days after taking down the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
The victory Thursday night was the kind of grinding, bruising and emotional win the Bulls sorely needed having had perhaps the worst ten day stretch in recent franchise history. Losing six of their last seven games and Derrick Rose for the season (and Jimmy Butler for a few weeks) had the Bulls entering Thursday’s game looking for something – anything – to at least rescue some semblance of momentum in the face of another ‘lost’ season.
With the Miami victory firmly in the bag thanks to the Bulls returning to dominating on the glass and on the defensive end and Joakim Noah rediscovering his energizer bunny mode, Chicago welcomes the Pistons to the United Center ready to win back-to-back games for the first time since beating the Pacers and Bobcats in mid-November.
Overshadowing the post-Miami glow is the announcement that Luol Deng is suffering from an as-yet-undefined leg injury. Noah mentioned to the press after shootaround Saturday Luol had a sore Achilles’ tendon while coach Thibodeau addressed the media shortly after, claiming a ‘tight and sore’ calf. Deng remains a game-time decision tonight.
Deng’s absence would be a massive blow for the Bulls looking to prove they can tread water without Rose. Deng has scored 20 points or more in each of the last six games, the longest streak of his career, and is shooting better than 50 percent since Rose was lost.
If Deng can’t go, Tony Snell and Mike Dunleavy would likely split his minutes between them. Dunleavy has been largely inconsistent since arriving in Chicago while Tony Snell has overcome a tough start and Thibodeau’s noted redshirting of Jimmy Butler and Marquis Teague. Snell defended LeBron James well in spells on Thursday and has shown his shooting touch from beyond the arc.
The Pistons come into the game having lost 14 straight games to the Bulls in Chicago and 19 of the last 20 contests overall. Though they, like the Bulls, used dominant rebounding and sound defense to down the Heat on the road on Tuesday evening. The Pistons have won three consecutive games to sit 9-10 after a dispiriting 6-10 start as head coach Maurice Cheeks struggled with a suitable rotation.
Detroit boasts three high-caliber frontcourt behemoths in Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith. In their win over Milwaukee Wednesday night, Monroe, Drummond and Smith combined for 59 points and 42 rebounds, one more board than their opponents managed as a team.
Joakim Noah will have his hands full on both ends, likely tasked with defending whichever of the trio gets off to a hot start. Carlos Boozer will be asked to up his game defensively and the Bulls will face a battle on the boards, an area in which victory could hold the keys to the game.
The Bulls beat the Pistons 99-79 in Detroit on November 27th. Luol Deng posted 27 points and six rebounds while Taj Gibson added a career-high 23 points to go with eight boards as the Bulls shot 53.2 percent from the field (including 6-17 from three) while holding the Pistons to just 44.2 percent shooting and 2-16 from deep.
The Pistons also shot just 9-19 from the free-throw line, their starting five was just 2-9.