Steve Merril’s NBA Fullcourt Report (Monday, April 13)
Bulls at Pistons (-4, 196) – 7:35 pm ET (NBA-tv)
The good news for Chicago and Detroit is the fact they have both clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The bad news is that they will have to face Cleveland, Boston, or Orlando in the first round. Chicago (40-40) is currently 7th in the conference and one spot ahead of Detroit (39-41) who is currently seeded 8th. The Bulls could surpass Philadelphia for the 6th seed, but can not move any higher.
“We know we’re playing for more than just to make the playoffs,” said John Salmons. “We want to try to move up as far as we can.”
“The top three teams are really good,” said Chicago’s Ben Gordon. “I don’t know if it matters much, but it would be a lot better to not play Cleveland. They’ve been playing really well.”
While Chicago is trying to improve their positioning, it appears Detroit is less concerned about where they play this weekend, especially after making the conference finals for the past six seasons.
“We’re already near the bottom in the playoffs, so at this point, regardless who we play, we can’t worry about who we’re going to play,” said Richard Hamilton. “We’ve just got to know that we made it to the playoffs and hopefully we can have a run.”
The Bulls underachieved during the first half of the season and were nine games below .500 on January 25th, but they have begun to play excellent basketball during the past month with an 11-3 SU record since March 14th. Chicago has also beaten quality teams during the past month with wins versus the Hornets, Celtics, Heat, and Sixers. The Bulls also beat the Pistons on March 24th as a 4½-point home favorite, 99-91. Kirk Hinrich led the team in scoring with 24 points and 8 assists, while the Pistons were led by Tayshaun Prince and surprisingly Will Bynum who each tallied 20 points.
The Pistons hit rock bottom on February 25th when they suffered their longest losing streak in the past decade with eight straight losses. They have since gone 12-12 straight-up in their past twenty-four games and have played better basketball without Allen Iverson in the lineup. The Pistons are 3-1 SU in their past four games and have been red-hot offensively, shooting at least 49-percent from the field or better and scoring 100 points or more in each game.
Chicago’s offense is in excellent current form as the Bulls have scored at least 101 points or more in 12 of their past 13 games. Rookie point guard Derrick Rose is quickly becoming a superstar and John Salmons has played excellent basketball since being acquired from Sacramento in February.
Chicago’s problem has come on defense as the Bulls have permitted at least 50% FG shooting or worse in five of their past six games, while allowing an average of 107 points per game. This is one of the reasons the early money pushed the opening NBA Over/Under line from 195½ to 196½ on Sunday night.