The Chicago Bulls recently completed their second Friday-Sunday home-and-home in as many weekends. This time, they went 0-2 against the Detroit Pistons. They lost 112-104 on Friday night in Chicago and dropped the Sunday matinee in Detroit 131-108.
The series against Detroit also puts a bow on Chicago’s Central Division schedule for 2018-19. They are the first team in the league to play all of their division games, and wrap up with a 3-13 record. The record is second-worst in the division, only ahead of the 2-11 Cleveland Cavaliers.
With Chicago’s Central Division slate complete, we now have a chance to look back over the matchups. We can examine the highs and lows, and discern where they fit in the division’s hierarchy for the forseeable future.
Ryan Arcidiacono was the only Bull to play in all 16 games. He averaged 6.7 points and 3.6 assists per game in those bouts. Robin Lopez appeared in 15, averaging 10.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game in the process.
Zach LaVine, naturally, was the team’s leading scorer in Central Division matchups. He averaged 21.4 points in his 14 games, along with 5.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. Lauri Markkanen was second in scoring, though he only played in 10 games. He averaged an impressive 20.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per game when he did play. Markkanen also shot 39.0 percent from 3-point range (on 7.7 attempts per game) and 93.3 percent on free throws.
The Bulls’ division record is a pretty good indicator of their place in the Central’s hierarchy. They went a combined 0-12 against the Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, and Indiana Pacers. However, they managed to go 3-1 against the Cavaliers. A 104-101 home loss on Jan. 27 prevented Chicago from completing the season sweep.
Chicago’s average margin of victory against the Cavaliers — 8.5 points per game — was their most decisive versus any of their opponents this season. Both matchups at the United Center — the first and final ones — were single-digit decisions.
The middle games in Cleveland, on the other hand, were blowouts, decided by a combined 36 points. The Bulls managed to prevail by shooting 50.0 percent from 3-point range in both games at Quicken Loans Arena.
Chicago exercised their advantage over a rebuilding team in the Cavs. However, they failed to notch wins over the three teams above them in the division. Not coincidentally, all three of them are entrenched in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The four clashes against the Pacers were the most competitive of the bunch. They were decided by 5.0 points per game. Oddly enough, the largest margin, a nine-point loss on Mar. 5, came in a game that did not feature star guard Victor Oladipo. As both teams play a slower pace and don’t rely on the 3-point shot, their games were closer than most people would probably expect.
Milwaukee, the only team in the NBA with 50 wins, beat the Bulls by at 11.5 points per game. Chicago routinely got off to hot starts against the Bucks. They scored 40 points in the first quarters of both November matchups, and 38 points in their final tilt. However, the Bulls would fail to maintain the momentum, as the Bucks would quickly make adjustments and win out every time.
In the end, the Detroit Pistons were the team to hand the Bulls the most brutal losses. The 13.0 points per game was Chicago’s second-largest margin of defeat against an Eastern Conference opponent. This includes losses by 19 (Nov. 30) and 23 points (Sunday). The loss on Friday was only by eight points, but Chicago led by as many as 21 points in the game.
Detroit was particularly dominant in their two meetings over the weekend. They entered Friday 10-2 since Feb. 4, and Chicago couldn’t stop the train. The Bulls managed to blitz the paint 44-22 in the 1st half of Friday’s game. However, the Pistons adjusted and outscored Chicago 194-146 over the next six quarters.
Detroit was particularly damaging from beyond the arc, shooting 45.2 percent over the weekend. Blake Griffin shot 40.0 percent from deep on 7.5 attempts per game and Reggie Jackson shot 46.2 percent on 6.5 attempts. Langston Galloway made all nine of his 3-point attempts across Friday and Sunday.
Taking an early look at next season, there’s a solid chance the Bulls will once again finish fourth in the Central Division. The Bucks and Pistons are trending up with their established rosters. Indiana will be concerned with Victor Oladipo’s recovery process, but have a solid enough core to still finish third. The Cavaliers, with their top draft pick, will likely finish last as they begin forging a new identity under a new coach.
The Chicago Bulls still have 14 games remaining in a 2018-19 season, but their Central Division schedule is all squared away. Their 3-13 record perfectly encapsulates where they are in the divisional hierarchy, and moving up in the foreseeable future will prove to be a tough task. But as we’ve seen with other teams around the league, smart signings and draft picks along with development and patience can go a long way to making a team a lot of fun to watch while continually making strides forward. Hopefully, the Bulls can climb the rungs of the NBA ladder over the next several years and eventually return to their earlier prominence.