Pistons at Bulls: Zach’s back for the Baby Bulls

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In a weird bit of synchronicity, Zach LaVine will return to NBA action against the same team he sustained last year’s season-ending ACL tear against: the Detroit Pistons. LaVine is definitely the type of player that would light up the Pistons – and the Chicago Bulls will need him to return to their winning ways.

Game Vitals:

When: Saturday, Jan 13, 8:00 p.m. EST
Where: United Center, Chicago, IL
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit, NBA League Pass
Wager: Detroit -1

Analysis:

After winning nine of 13 games to close out the month of December, the Bulls have dropped five of their last seven games. They’re coming off a (VERY sloppy) double-overtime win against the New York Knicks, while the Pistons, of course, won their last game against the Brooklyn Nets by playing perhaps their best defensive game of the season. If the Pistons can bring that level of intensity on defense tonight, they’ll have no problem keeping the Bulls down.

What the Pistons can’t afford is a mental letdown brought on by the trade winds that have swirled around the team lately. Will Stanley Johnson or Luke Kennard be traded? Will Nikola Mirotic or Evan Fournier be Pistons? Despite that being the bulk of the talk around the team lately, it doesn’t matter a whit tonight.

Since the loss of Reggie Jackson, the Pistons have been leaning more heavily on their defense to win games. They held the San Antonio Spurs to 79 points, the Houston Rockets to 101 points (and ZERO transition points), and Brooklyn to 80 points. When they get into shootouts – as they did against the New Orleans Pelicans and the Miami Heat – they tend to lose.

When the Bulls win, though, they get teams into shootouts: They’ve won games 127-124 over the Dallas Mavericks, 119-107 over the Indiana Pacers, and the aforementioned 122-119 double-overtime win against the Knicks. The bulk of that can be attributed to the sharp-shooting rookie Lauri Markkanen, who tied future Hall-of-Famer Dirk Nowitzki for most threes made by a seven-footer with eight (!) in that Knicks game. What’s not attributable to Markkanen can be placed at the feet of Kris Dunn, who has showed much more than he did in his rookie season. Having the ball in his hands more – something that probably never would have happened in Minnesota – has helped him be more sure of himself, and you can see that confidence in his elevated play.

There’s concern in Bulls land about what the team will look like with Dunn and LaVine in the same backcourt, so the Pistons should try to use those two guys’ relative unfamiliarity with each other against one another tonight. If the Pistons can do that, and keep the Bulls around 100 points, they’ll go 2-1 on this short road trip before an extended stretch of home games (after this game, 11 of their next 13 games are at home).

Projected Lineup:

Pistons:
Ish Smith, Avery Bradley, Reggie Bullock, Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond

Bulls:
Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Denzel Valentine, Lauri Markkanen, Robin Lopez

Prediction:

The Pistons keep the Bulls under 100 points and take this one.

Detroit 98, Chicago 89

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