Bulls beat lifeless Pistons

Bulls beat lifeless Pistons

The Pistons looked to the worst possible matchup on the worst night of the season for the Bulls, as they were light at the center position and facing Andre Drummond, a man who has given the Bulls the business during their better days.

But the Pistons seemed to be the best opponent on the second night of a back-to-back, as they seemed dispirited and dead-legged, with the Bulls taking full advantage in their 117-95 win at the United Center Wednesday night.

The win ties the two rivals with 34-38 records, looking on the outside in at the Eastern Conference playoff race with 10 games left.

Both came into the game smarting from road losses the night before, with the Pistons falling to the lowly Brooklyn Nets at the buzzer in Brooklyn and the Bulls losing a 15-point fourth quarter lead to the Raptors, dropping the contest in overtime.

Nikola Mirotic scored a season-high 28 points in 38 minutes, hitting 12 of 15 shots while Jimmy Butler scored was perfect on his six shots, scoring 16 with 12 assists and five rebounds in 33 minutes, as the Bulls shot 59 percent from the field.

"I was proud of the guys, the way they bounced back after last night's disappointment," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We talked before the game about how well we played for the majority of the game last night besides the last five minutes."

There would be no such suspense on this night, as the Pistons offered little resistance and seemed to be a bit lifeless for most of the evening, despite the prodding from coach Stan Van Gundy.

"We've got 10 games to go, but I don't see a lot of life in us," said Van Gundy in a statement that could've been attributed to Hoiberg if he was given some truth serum after some disappointing losses this season.

But the tables were turned for once, in the most unlikely of ways as the Bulls own the tiebreaker over the Pistons with a better division record at the moment.

With Robin Lopez out with a suspension stemming from Tuesday's swing-and-miss exercise with Serge Ibaka and Cristiano Felicio being out with a lower back injury, Drummond was expected to dominate, already having three 20-20 games against the Bulls on his ledger.

He grabbed 17 rebounds but only scored eight points as the Pistons shot 44 percent from the field.

Joffrey Lauvergne took his turn in the starting lineup, performing admirably with 17 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes and keeping Drummond occupied, his best game since being traded to Chicago at the deadline.

"Joff plays incredibly hard, he listens," Butler said. "The big dude (Drummond) missed a lot of shots he normally makes. I think that's all you can play about that. Joff played hard, he did what he was supposed to do."

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The Pistons' only signs of life came from Stanley Johnson (12 points) and Jon Leuer (13 points), who came off the bench in the late first quarter and early second to bring the game to a two-point margin before the half at 55-53.

But the Bulls took the fight from the Pistons early in the second half and made their separation in the third quarter with a decisive 32-20 run, as Nikola Mirotic scored 12 in the period and Butler adding seven.

Mirotic, if it carries over, could point to this game as the one that turned his season around at the right time. He was aggressive against Tobias Harris and hit four triples as the Bulls were nine of 20 from long range, proving they didn't have a hangover from their heartbreaker the night before.

"I thought he let the game come to him," Hoiberg said. "He didn't take forced shots. When you have good, crisp ball movement, you're going to get open looks."

Even without their lane cloggers, the Bulls lived in the paint, taking a 21-point lead due to scoring 48 points in the paint and moving the ball to the tune of 28 assists on their first 37 field goals.

"We needed to step up, especially guarding Drummond inside," Mirotic said.  "Offensively, we played great. Thirty-six assists."

Considering where Mirotic was a couple weeks ago, out of the rotation and nowhere near top of mind when it came to who would help the Bulls find themselves, it's somewhat gratifying.

"It's exciting when you do something well," Mirotic said. "But I've always been very positive about everything. When they told me I would be out of the rotation, I was the first guy coming in, working out and being positive with my teammates."

Unlike the fourth quarter against the Raptors, the Bulls didn't have to worry about a late surge as the Pistons rested their regulars relatively early, waiving the white flag as the Bulls shot close to 60 percent.

Rajon Rondo added nine assists of his own as he was the only starter who didn't reach double figures in scoring.

He didn't need to, as the game served as a confidence-builder for Mirotic, Bobby Portis and Lauvergne, the man who started in Lopez's stead.

Although giving up plenty in size and skill to Drummond, he pulled him to the perimeter and even found gold inside to score 17 with seven rebounds in his best performance as a Bull since being involved in the trade involving Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott at the deadline.

If the Bulls play like this every night before April 12, they could find their way to the postseason, but if they played like this before tonight, a playoff spot would've already been assured.

Bulls Road Ahead: Facing a critical stretch this week

Bulls Road Ahead: Facing a critical stretch this week

The Bulls currently sit in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, though that's just a single game out of the final playoff spot.

With just three weeks left in the regular season the Bulls face their most important stretch of the season when they play the Raptors, as well as two teams they're chasing in the East in Detroit and Milwaukee.

We break it all down in this week's edition of the Bulls Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda dealers.

Dwyane Wade out for regular season with elbow injury

Dwyane Wade out for regular season with elbow injury

Dwyane Wade wore a wistful smile as he talked to the media at the Advocate Center, knowing the quiet dream he had of meeting one of his best friends for a playoff battle was extinguished.

The "pop-pop" he felt in his right elbow was the first sign last night things weren't going to fall his way, followed by his teammate Jimmy Butler telling him his experiences with the same injury.

But he still felt somewhat optimistic. 

Until his MRI showed not the worst possible news but not great news by any stretch, that he'll miss the remainder of the regular season with a small fracture in his right elbow. 

"Technical terms would be a sprain or whatever, but things like that," Wade said. "But the good thing about it is it did go back in. Obviously it's a big injury in baseball when it comes to baseball and pitchers — the Tommy John word that everyone in baseball and pitchers are afraid of – so it was big in that way.

"But I was lucky that it went back in and now the biggest things is about protecting it, making sure it heals the right way, so I can get back to my football passes on the basketball court.''

Thus, it ends the dream of hoping the Bulls would go on some magical playoff run to meet up with LeBron James for a showdown. Wade wouldn't say it publicly, but it's a small part of what kept him going through a tumultuous homecoming in Chicago.

He'll be in a soft cast for the next two weeks then start his rehab from then. He didn't seem too optimistic about his prospects for returning in the event the Bulls qualify for the playoffs, but wouldn't commit to anything in the moment.

"I told them that I heard a ‘pop, pop,' and I kind of said that [Wednesday night], and it was pretty much a dislocation at the time, and it went back in, so kind of dealing with the aftermath of what that looks like. This is what it looks like," Wade said.

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What it looks like for the Bulls is anybody's guess, as they're 10th in the East, a game back of Detroit with one meeting left. Being without their second best player and mature leader makes that task all the more difficult.

It took the air out of Bulls practice, as Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg called it a "tough blow" more than once.

"It was a little bit of shock on guys' faces when he walked in, seeing the arm in the type of shape that it was," Hoiberg said. "It's just something where these young guys have to take it as an opportunity to step up, obviously when we need it most, it's a very important stretch of our season."

A very important stretch without a guy who played the way he's played the past three seasons, to large degree. On some nights, he was the Bulls best player and easily provided the most inspiration.

Averaging 18.6 points, 3.9 assists and 4.5 rebounds in 30.2 minutes per game, that production will be hard to muster for the rest of the roster as Wade will only be able to bring the inspiration from the sideline.

Hoiberg wouldn't reveal who would start in Wade's place for Friday's game against the Wizards or beyond, but he could start Denzel Valentine at shooting guard to spread the floor.

With 14 games remaining, there's far more questions than answers, which was the case for the Bulls even before Wade's injury. 

"In this league it's an opportunity league for certain guys and it comes in different ways," Wade said. "So this opportunity for someone that probably wasn't getting enough time that they wanted, probably wasn't getting the touches they wanted. This is going to be an opportunity to step up and try and help this team as we are in this battle to make the playoffs down the stretch."

If they'll do that, Wade's biggest role will be turning into basketball's version of Bundini Brown for Butler, as Butler will have to reverse course from his post-All Star production to drag this group of inexperienced misfits to the playoffs.

"A lot is going to go on Jimmy's shoulders, but a lot has been on his shoulders already, so he'll be fine," Wade said. "He kind of told me what I was looking at. Like I said yesterday, I didn't want to believe him. I didn't like what he was seeing. It's not nothing he wanted. It's not nothing that anybody in here wanted. But it's something we gotta deal with."

And what Wade will have to deal with for his own future, a $23.8 million player option for next season he'll have to exercise or decline, is probably directly tied to whether Butler is on the roster.

"At this point, it's too much cart in front of the horse," Wade said. "Couple hours removed but definitely too soon."

But not too soon to say this isn't the way Wade's storybook return was supposed to end in his mind.