Chicago Bulls (15-27) vs. Detroit Pistons (22-18)
7 p.m., WGN
After missing the last two games with the flu, Nikola Mirotic will play on Saturday night. For those that believed the “sickness” was just an excuse for Mirotic to sit out prior to an impending trade, Mirotic seemed to subtlety contradict that theory on Twitter the other day (unless it’s a smokescreen).
I'm in love with the Chicago media— Nikola Mirotic (@threekola) January 12, 2018
He’s also playing dumb with reporters today, which is hilarious.
Niko Mirotic claims he doesn't know significance of Jan. 15 for him. I don't think anyone is buying that.— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) January 13, 2018
On the injury front for the Pistons, the struggling Stanley Johnson is questionable for the game tonight with a strained right hip. Reggie Jackson also remains sidelined with an ankle injury. Jon Leuer may need surgery to repair an ankle injury he sustained on Halloween.
So basically, three of the contracts that the Pistons may want to move in a trade with the Bulls are injured messes right now.
This game is all about the #thereturn of Zach LaVine.
Sidelined for over 11 months with an ACL injury, his aerial acrobatic self will be on a 20 minute per game minutes restriction, at least initially (Cody Westerlund reported today that those minutes will come in the first three quarters). LaVine is starting at the SG position, with Justin Holiday sliding to SF and pushing Denzel Valentine to the bench.
For the first time, the Bulls will get to see all three pieces returned in the Jimmy Butler trade play together. The playmaking abilities of Dunn and the shooting and transition magic of LaVine all supplemented by the unicorn-ness of Lauri Markkanen. Then, of course, there’s Mirotic, who is still averaging 17.4 points on 48.6 percent from the field since the punch heard around the world.
Could this version of Bulls could be....like....good?.... Maybe, if the chemistry clicks right away with LaVine integrated into the lineup. But, it could be short lived with the trade deadline purge looming. The iteration of the Bulls lineup in three weeks could look a lot different than what the lineup looks like tonight.
Meanwhile, in Motor City the Pistons have surprised some people with their solid first half of the season. At 22-18, they sit at sixth in the Eastern Conference and have the tenth-best record in the NBA. It could have been better though, as the Pistons jumped out to a 10-3 record (with a win against the Golden State Warriors in that stretch), and were one of the very best teams in the league early in the season.
The heartbeat of the Pistons is massive center Andre Drummond who leads the NBA in rebounding (15.0 per game) and averages 14.4 points per game on a hyper-efficient 53.8 percent from the field. You’d have to imagine that the Bulls will have to stick Robin Lopez on him for the majority of the game, as neither Markkanen, Bobby Portis, nor even the beefed-up Mirotic have the size or strength to contain him in the paint.
Stretch power forward Tobias Harris provides a perfect complement to Drummond’s skillset. He leads the Pistons in scoring with 18.5 points per game, and shoots the ball at a 43.9 percent clip from behind the 3-point line.
Overall, the Pistons have a nice inside-out offense with Drummond in the middle surrounded by a bunch of 3-point shooters. Detroit is third in the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage (38 percent) and have six players who shoot the ball from that range above a 39 percent clip.
But the score of the game, Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris, or any other player doesn’t matter. All Bulls fans will glue their eyes to Zach LaVine’s every move as they get their first glimpse of what this team could look like in the future.