Tomorrow night, the Bulls face the Pistons in the United Center.
Both teams enter the game 0-1. But whereas the Bulls lost to a young, up-and-coming team with a viable MVP candidate, the Pistons lost to the New Jersey Nets. You know, the ballclub that won only 12 games last season and took its rightful place among the worst teams in league history.
Destination: Doom indeed.
In their loss to the Nets, the Pistons choked away a seven-point lead in the final 1:40, losing 101-98. And although you could point toward poor crunch-time execution — both offensively and defensively — Detroit probably lost the game at the foul line, where they clanged 14 of their 30 attempts (including a 2-for-8 performance by our old friend Ben Wallace).
So what can we expect from the Pistons on Saturday?
It’s hard to say. Last season was a disaster by Pistons standards. Remember, from 2001-02 to 2007-08, Detroit won 50 or more games seven times, made six trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, reached the NBA Finals twice and won the title in 2004. Then GM Joe Dumars let Rasheed Wallace walk, traded Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson, and spent $90 million on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.
The result? Detroit’s first 50-loss season since 2001. The Pistons ranked 21st in Offensive Rating and 26th in Defensive Rating, finishing with a 27-55 record…last in the Central Division.
It was their worst record since 1994.
The 2009-10 Pistons were a poor shooting team, ranking 29th in Effective Field Goal Percentage and dead last in three-point percentage. However, they crashed the offensive glass (2nd in Offensive Rebound Percentage) and took care of the basketball (9th in Turnover Percentage). They also forced plenty of miscues, ranking 5th in Opponents Turnover Percentage.
Unfortunately, they ranked 29th in both Opponents Effective Field Goal Percentage and Opponents Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt. They also had a 19th place finish in Defensive Rebounding Percentage.
What does all this mean?
I’m not entirely sure. Last year’s regression might have been caused by poor personnel decisions, or it might have been the result of injuries to Gordon, Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince. Or maybe it was a little of column A and a little of column B.
Still, assuming anything remains constant from last season, the Bulls need to protect their defensive backboards and make good decisions with the ball to avoid giving up garbage points off putbacks and turnovers. They also need to focus on working the ball around for open shots, because the Pistons will give them up.
Furthermore, the Bulls need to be aggressive in attacking the basket. Last year, the Pistons gave up the 9th most free throw attempts. They gave up 24 fouls shots against the Nets in their season opener. There’s no reason the Bulls can’t get to the line 30+ times.
Finally, Chicago must execute in the fourth quarter. In their own season opener, the only thing the Bulls executed was themselves, going 6-for-24 from the field and committing 5 turnovers. They also spent way too much time watching Derrick Rose dribble his way into tough shot attempts.