Purely on motivational reasons, Friday night's Pistons-Bulls game looks like a mismatch. The sportsbooks agree it shouldn't be close as the Bulls opened as 10.5-point favorites on NBA odds with a total of 191.5.
Dumars Era Winding Down
Joe Dumars was one of the great Pistons players of all time and is in the Hall of Fame. He started very successfully in his job as president of basketball operations in 2000 and shaped the Pistons into a title contender. From 2003-08 the team played in the East Finals every year and won the 2004 NBA title. However, Dumars has been a disaster since the 2008-09 season -- really Dumars' downfall started in the 2003 draft when he took Darko Milicic No. 2 over Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
These Pistons (33-45-1 ATS, 53-26 O/U at sportsbooks) will finish with a losing record for the sixth year in a row, and Dumars has made several personnel blunders leading to the streak, namely giving big contracts to in the summer of 2009 to Ben Gordon and Charlie Villaneuva and then this past offseason to Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. Pistons ownership essentially demanded playoffs or bust this season and that's not happening so Dumars is expected to resign.
Smith doesn't fit on the current roster playing at small forward, but the Pistons have younger, better players at power forward in Greg Monroe (a restricted free-agent-to-be) and center Andre Drummond. Smith has missed the past two games with a knee injury and is questionable. He can still put up big games now and then but also has terrible shot selection. Jennings is a shoot-first point guard who can't shoot: he's hitting only 37.4 percent from the field. The Pistons traded Brandon Knight for Jennings from Milwaukee and Knight is younger and probably better.
One thing Dumars did right was draft Drummond No. 9 overall in 2012. He is one of the top young players in the NBA, with Drummond averaging 13.2 points and 13.0 rebounds in his second season. He is abysmal from the free-throw line but that's about Drummond's only negative.
No Rest For Weary
Many teams are in shutdown mode with their best players this time of year to rest them for the playoffs or to avoid serious injury with only a few games remaining in a lost season. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau doesn't believe in that, sometimes to his detriment. You won't see the likes of Joakim Noah or Jimmy Butler getting much rest before the postseason.
Chicago (40-37-1 ATS, 31-47 O/U at sportsbooks) won 102-87 at Minnesota on Wednesday behind Noah's fourth triple-double of the season, tied for the most in the NBA. Noah just might earn first-team All-NBA honors ahead of Dwight Howard and it's fair to call the Bulls his team going forward, not Derrick Rose's. The Bulls have won a season-high six straight overall and they have reason to finish strong: that No. 3 seed.
Toronto and Chicago enter Friday tied for the third seed and should they stay that way the Raptors take it by being a division winner. Taking No. 3 gets a presumably much easier first-round matchup against either Charlotte or Washington. The No. 4 gets Brooklyn, which has been one of the NBA's best teams in 2014.
The Bulls and Pistons used to be blood rivals in the Michael Jordan/Bad Boys days but those are long gone. Chicago hasn't lost a season series against Detroit since the 2005-06 season and had won 18 straight in the series before dropping the final meeting vs. the Pistons last year. Chicago leads 2-1 this season. The Pistons' 92-75 victory in the Windy City on Dec. 7 -- just a couple of weeks after Chicago had lost Derrick Rose -- was notable as it ended the Pistons' 14-game losing streak at the United Center. The Bulls still had Luol Deng then, but he was out injured too. Taj Gibson has played all three of the games and is averaging 22.0 points and 7.7 rebounds vs. Detroit. Noah has struggled a bit, averaging 8.3 points and 8.3 rebounds. Jennings leads the Pistons in averaging 18.0 points against Chicago. Drummond is at 11.0 points and 10.7 rebounds.
NBA free picks: Bulls -10.5 and the under on NBA odds. The Pistons are 2-11 ATS in their past 13 against the Eastern Conference. The Bulls are 4-0 ATS in their past four following an ATS win. The under is 6-1 in the past seven meetings in Chicago.