This one should be both fun and important, as (two of) the top teams in the East square off tonight at the United Center. Sure there's the added backstory of Ben Wallace facing his former mates, but that seems more of an issue for Detroit and their fans than the Bulls. Although maybe in the presence of Flip Saunders, Wallace will be especially focused on showing off his new offensive moves. (That phrase can be taken multiple ways...)
The more important matchup is how the Bulls stack up as a team against Detroit, a matchup that has had some successes (including winning both road games 2 seasons ago) but a nightmare 0-fer last season including an embarrassing blowout. My Man Sam has a nice recap of the recent rivalry (or not, according to the Pistons).
"To me, our rivals in the East are Indiana and Miami. Not to take anything away from those young fellas, but it's not a rivalry."
It sure seemed like one last season when Rasheed Wallace spent much of an easy December victory mocking the Bulls and laughing at their misses, shouting "ball don't lie" as the Bulls missed free throws, yelling "bank" on shots and pushing around Andres Nocioni. Coach Scott Skiles seethed and in a postgame lecture he assured his team he would have done something about it.
In their next game later in December, the usually calm Othella Harrington got ejected in frustration. And when the teams met again in February, Skiles almost did something about it. Pistons players say Skiles was challenging Richard Hamilton to a fight after Hamilton got ejected for elbowing Kirk Hinrich.
Skiles denied it, though most people would have come to blows after the things Hamilton, according to witnesses, called Skiles: Unprintable names and characterizations that have led to much more extreme violence elsewhere.
But now the landscape has changed some, even if the Pistons are loathe to admit it despite the Bulls' addition of Ben Wallace.
Wallace against his former team is likely more of a footnote given that Pistons players probably talk to Wallace more often than Wallace's new teammates do. Billups, who won't play on Saturday, says he and Ben Wallace speak about every day, and Wallace will always be a Piston.
That may create some ambivalence for the Bulls on Saturday.
Everyone hates the Pistons and their behavior. The Bulls question their sportsmanship; they say the Pistons moan and constantly beg for fouls. The Bulls now have Ben Wallace, who was involved in sticking it to them.
But the Pistons remain the team that has been the Eastern dynasty the last five years.
So it's probably a bigger game for the Bulls than for Ben Wallace, and perhaps not so much for the Pistons, who on Friday seemed eager for the reunion with their old friend.
It's annoying that the Pistons believe they're some sort of dynasty, but that's irrelevant if the Bulls can't beat them.
A lot has changed for both teams since last season, the Bulls took one of their best players, and the Pistons have completely changed their style to become the 3rd best offense in the league, although not maintaining the dominating defense that got them to the Finals in consecutive years. Both ends of the floor will be impacted by the loss of Chauncey Billups, meaning the Pistons weak backcourt bench of Lindsay Hunter and Flip Murray will have to log heavy minutes. Hopefully this means that last night's 0 FTA effort against New Jersey was an aberration for Ben Gordon, who falls into his old inconsistencies when not getting to the line.
But I'm especially worried about what Rasheed Wallace may do tonight. He's dominant when inspired, and coupling facing Ben Wallace as well as his annoyance in Andres Nocioni he may be ready for a big game. And for those who question the long-term viability of Noc as a starting four can look to this matchup as an example why it won't work, as Wallace can absolutely dominate Noc if his shot is falling.