The Chicago Bulls have continued to play solid basketball as Derrick Rose works his way back toward a return, but tonight could prove to be more of a challenge than initially expected. The Detroit Pistons will visit the United Center and could prove to be a tougher opponent than they initially appear.
Detroit may have a sub-.500 record, but the team is one of the better defensive squads in the league. The Pistons rank eighth in points allowed and sixth in rebounding, which has helped them defeat elite teams like the Miami Heat on December 28 and the Boston Celtics twice. That's not at all bad for a team that started the season 0-8.
The Pistons have also won three of their last five and would love to add the Chicago Bulls to their list of giants slain. The Bulls defeated Detroit on December 7, and head coach Lawrence Frank's crew would love to avenge that loss.
That won't at all be easy. The Bulls have won four of five and have refused to back down in Rose's absence.
Throw in that the Pistons are just four games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and this is a game that is actually destined to be a battle until the final buzzer even though it seems like it should be a clear-cut win for Chicago.
Time: Wednesday, January 23rd, 8 p.m. EST
TV: CSN Chicago, Fox Sports Detroit
Records: Detroit Pistons (16-25) vs. Chicago Bulls (24-16)
Betting Line: Detroit (+6.5), Chicago (-6.5), via Bovada
Injuries: Derrick Rose (knee, out), Luol Deng (hamstring, day-to-day), Corey Maggette (flu, day-to-day), Rodney Stuckey (ankle, day-to-day)
Key Storyline: Whose Defense Reigns Supreme?
The Pistons are ranked eighth in points allowed while the Bulls are ranked third, so one would think that all of the games between these two teams would be low-scoring. Such was not the case on December 7.
Chicago and Detroit met at the Palace of Auburn Hills that night, and the Bulls won 108-104 in an unusually high-scoring matchup. Joakim Noah led the way with an astounding 30-point, 23-rebound performance, and Carlos Boozer chipped in 24 points of his own.
Rodney Stuckey led Detroit with 24 points off the bench, but there was one word to define this game: Rebound. The Bulls outclassed the Pistons in that department, 41-28, and will need to turn in a similar performance tonight.
As good as Detroit is defensively, the Pistons are still a young and inexperienced team. They may be able to keep the game close against Chicago, but to say that they can handily defeat them is a stretch.
Chicago finished with the NBA's best record each of the past two seasons, and the loss of its best player has not kept the other players from turning in solid performances. Thus, while the Pistons are capable of pulling off an upset, it's impossible to count out the Bulls' defense in this battle for the Midwest.
Key Matchup: Joakim Noah vs. Greg Monroe
Joakim Noah had an excellent game against the Pistons in December, and he'll need to have another one tonight. The former Florida Gator has done a fine job of both staying healthy and stepping up his effort in Rose's absence, averaging 12.2 points, 10.7 boards and 2.1 blocks per game. In doing so, he has made a strong case to be named this season's Defensive Player of the Year.
However, Noah has struggled as of late. He has posted 11 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks over his last five games, but he has shot just 36 percent from the field.
Greg Monroe needs to take full advantage of Noah's offensive struggles, though he himself is still learning how to be a true defensive center. In his third NBA season, the former Georgetown Hoya has posted 15.4 points and 9.1 rebounds. He plays the low post well, has great size at 6'11", 250 pounds and in time will become one of the NBA's best big men.
However, despite the fine rebounding totals, Monroe still has a lot to learn about playing defense. While Noah is of similar size and plays a great lockdown game, Monroe is still a bit slow on his feet. This could prove to be a problem against Noah, whose low and high post game has proven to be frustrating for any and all defenders.
All Monroe can really do tonight is refuse to give up under any circumstances. Noah may be the better athlete, but Monroe has too much talent and potential to just lay down against him.
The fact is that Detroit can win this game and stun the Chicago crowd, and it all starts with a solid performance from the team's young center.
X-Factor: Andre Drummond
The key to defeating Chicago is out-defending them, and Detroit will need a solid output from Andre Drummond in order for that to happen. The rookie big man has only averaged 7.5 points per game on the season, but his 7.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per contest cements his status as an elite defensive center in the making.
Moreover, Drummond has been solid over his last five games. He has posted 11 points, 8.8 rebounds and two blocks per game over that stretch, and he has also shot an incredible 72 percent from the field.
He'll likely be matched up against the red-hot Carlos Boozer at some point, so it is important that his defense be at its best. Boozer has averaged 22 points and 11.5 rebounds in the month of January, so he is real threat to light up the scoreboard. His point total has decreased in each of his last three games, but that does not mean he can be written off.
Drummond must fight past his inexperience and expose Boozer's weaknesses in the low post. His defense is the key to Detroit pulling off the upset, and he has proven that he can guard well on the NBA level.
The former UConn star may only be 19 years old, but just watch. In this game, he could very well prove to any and all doubters that he is not to be disregarded so easily.
Both teams are hot coming into this game, but only one can keep the heat going by the final buzzer. In this case, it's going to be the Bulls.
Detroit will keep the game close, but Chicago's collective experience will be just too much for the young Pistons to handle. Joakim Noah will own the paint against Greg Monroe, and clutch shots from Nate Robinson and Richard Hamilton will only further ice the game in the Bulls' favor.
Who will win?
That isn't to say that the Pistons will be destined to lose from the get-go. The team's shooters will get hot at certain points, and Detroit will go on its fair share of runs. Defensively, Andre Drummond will have some key rebounds and blocks.
In the fourth quarter, however, Drummond's defensive gas tank will empty as Carlos Boozer uses his experience to better the rookie in the low post and sink some key baskets. The wind will then leave Detroit's sails and enter Chicago's, pushing the Bulls to another hard-earned victory.
Chicago Bulls 100, Detroit Pistons 95
All statistics in this article are accurate as of January 22, 2013