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Pistons vs. Bulls preview: Chicago winning games, but still looking for identity

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Bulls host the Pistons with a four game winning streak, but that doesn’t mean everything’s great in Chicago.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

When the Chicago Bulls parted way with defensive guru Tom Thibodeau in favor of Fred Hoiberg, the thought was that the original Mayor would institute his fast-pace, three point shooting offense to start running teams off the court.

After all, Hoiberg's Iowa State teams were consistently one of the most explosive offensive teams in the country while their defense would do just enough. So far though, the Bulls have upped the pace but are shaping up to be one of their worst offensive teams in more than a decade. They aren't even shooting that many three-point shots, despite shooting a strong percentage from behind the long line.

But their defense is the same stout unit that Thibs spent five years cultivating, currently second in the league in defensive rating and leading the league in effective field goal percentage allowed.

Game vitals

Where: United Center, Chicago, IL
When: 8 p.m. ET
Watch: CSN-Chicago,FS Detroit

Game Analysis

Despite things not exactly going according to plan in Chicago, they've still managed to win games. The biggest reason is Jimmy Butler maintaining his play from a season where he won Most Improved Player. But the rest of their offense...

Derrick Rose is off to his healthiest start since 2010, but has been among the worst players in the league. He's shooting 14 times per game despite a true shooting percentage of just 42 percent. Emmanual Mudiay is the only player in the league to have taken more shots than Rose and post a more inefficient shooting line.

Joakim Noah's play has also fallen off a cliff. In his first year off the bench, he can't score and is turnover prone. He's actually boasting a true shooting percentage even worse than Rose. He is at least having his best rebounding season of his career, is still an excellent defender, and posts impressive assist numbers for his position.

Perhaps the most disappointing underachiever for the Bulls though has been Nikola Mirotic. After posting 16 points and 6 rebounds per game after the All Star break last season, Mirotic looked primed for a breakout season as a perfect fit in Hoiberg's spread attack. He opened the season validating those expectations with 19 points and 7 rebounds per game in the first four. But since then he's averaged under double digits scoring while shooting just 38 percent. Mirotic's even lost his starting job to Taj Gibson.

It's actually questionable whether the Bulls are really as good as their record. Their point differential is just the 9th best in the Eastern Conference, despite currently sitting second in the standings. Part of their edge may have come from their early season schedule. While the Pistons have already played seven back-to-backs, the Bulls have only had two. The Bulls have also had seven games with two or more days rest, while the Pistons have only had five.

You can't hide from the NBA schedule forever though, as those back-to-backs will start to catch up with the Bulls. The Bulls have one this weekend, playing at New York on Saturday after their game against Detroit. Then they'll have a pair of back-to-backs on the road next week, playing at Oklahoma City before Dallas.

If they're going to cling on to that second spot in the East, it'll take improved play from their key contributors. When you've played the fewest games in the league, a losing streak can quickly turn things ugly.

Marquee Matchup

Andre Drummond vs Pau Gasol

Gasol's numbers are down a bit for the season, particularly in his scoring efficiency. But he put up a strong game against Drummond in their first meeting earlier this year, with 16 points and 12 rebounds along with some blocks, steals, and assists. Drummond went for 20 points, 20 rebounds, and a couple of blocks and steals, but it took 19 shots and 10 free throws to get there.

Gasol has been beasting as of late, averaging 17 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists on 30 minutes per game over the past six games.

Last Time We Met

October 30, 2015 at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons won in OT, 98-94

Drummond went for 20-20 and was particularly dominant in overtime. Marcus Morris exploded in the third quarter for 15 points. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hassled Jimmy Butler into 5-19 shooting, but Mirotic was able to carry the Bulls offense with 22 points.

Lineup prediction

Pistons: Reggie Jackson, KCP, Morris, Ersan Ilyasova, Drummond
Bulls: Rose, Butler, Tony Snell, Gibson, Gasol

Injuries/Out

Pistons: Brandon Jennings, Jodie Meeks
Bulls: Mike Dunleavy

Community Question

Can KCP keep up his hot streak and outplay Jimmy Butler?