Both the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons figure to have their voice heard during the upcoming postseason. That's where the current state of the franchises' similarities end. While the Pistons' best days seem to be ahead of them, for the Bulls, it might be now or never. Aside from Jimmy Butler and maybe Bobby Portis, it would come to the shock of no one if any of their current core players wore a different jersey at some point next year.
The Bulls aren't deprived of talent but that talent meshing with new head coach Fred Hoiberg hasn't gone as smoothly as they originally envisioned. With Cleveland as the clear cut favorite to represent the East, it would take a herculean effort from Chicago to compete for a championship this year. Without some sort of urgency though, that outcome is highly unlikely.
Too much Gasol
The Pistons came out strong rushing to a 26-13 lead but in the end Pau Gasol proved to be as effective as he was efficient leading the Bulls with 31 points in a 111 - 101 Chicago win. Derrick Rose, who is elite in name only, pitched in 20 points including two drives late in the fourth that essentially put the Pistons away for good.
Gasol is a skilled big man that owns a variety of offense weapons and stopping him becomes a game of pick your poison. Put a bigger defender on him and he'll simply step back and shoot from the outside. Throw a smaller defender on him and he'll live on the block. With Andre Drummond, clearly Gasol's advantage is on the outside. Drummond is defensively at home roaming the paint and banging with traditional centers, having to step outside to cover a scorching hot Gasol consistently put Drummond in an uncomfortable position. Gasol knocked down shot after shot, needing only 18 attempts for his 31 points. Having to cover bigs who have the ability to play 20 feet out has been a problem all year long for Drummond and the Pistons, the Gasol brothers and DeMarcus Cousins come to mind.
Unfortunately for the growing Pistons, gaining valuable experience is usually best taught (and remembered) in a losing effort.
Earlier in the season against the Los Angeles Clippers, Andre Drummond decided to double team Blake Griffin without communicating properly. The result left no one to rotate on Jamal Crawford who hit a wide open game winning three point shot.
Against the Bulls, Drummond committed two defensive shot clock no-no's.
First, with under three seconds remaining on the shot clock and the Bulls taking the ball out from the baseline, Aaron Brooks found a relatively open Gasol for a corner three who proceeded to hit the shot and put the Bulls up 10.
Number two came with Gasol 30 feet away from the basket and the shot clock winding down. In a desperate attempt, Gasol hoisted a three to beat the clock and Drummond committed a foul to bail out Gasol. All three free throws went it and again, the lead went up to 10.
Not enough of a closeout on one and too much on the other. A teachable moment indeed. A majority of Drummond's fouls seem to be of the touch variety. Reaching on defense or trying to out jump instead of boxing out for rebounds. The fouls called against him never seem to be worth it.
Losing their edge
A combination of the Chicago Bulls and the referees made Detroit lose their cool, most notably Kentvaious Caldwell-Pope. KCP was ejected late in the third quarter after being called for his second technical foul. The tech was called after Caldwell-Pope was whistled for a reach in foul on E'Twan Moore. In reality, KCP was still steaming after a no call on Gasol on Detroit's previous possession. Regardless of why or how, the result found Detroit without their most reliable perimeter defender.
Before being sent home early, Caldwell-Pope was doing typical KCP things: scoring and applying pressure to Chicago's offense. Losing him changes the landscape of Detroit's game plan but it's something they should prepare for. KCP is about as durable as it gets but with injuries, ejections, foul trouble, any number of variables can happen to a team and it's important to know how to handle these types of situations. If the Pistons are going to learn on-the-fly how to play without one of their key members, it's best to do it in mid-January rather than the (hopeful) postseason.
After the Pistons played one their most memorable games against Golden State over the weekend, this one was rather forgettable. Mental mistakes and visible frustration sent the Pistons on their upcoming road trip on a losing note.