Retooled Pistons set for last-minute matchup vs. Bulls

The Detroit Pistons weren’t supposed to play Central Division rival Chicago until the second half of the season.

In a hastily arranged matchup, the Pistons found themselves traveling to the Windy City to begin a five-game trip.

Detroit had its home game with San Antonio on Tuesday postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test and subsequent contact tracing within the Spurs’ organization. The Pistons were supposed to head to Dallas to face the Mavericks on Wednesday, but a government shutdown of the Mavs’ home arena, due to severe weather conditions, forced another postponement.

Meanwhile, the Bulls originally were scheduled to play Charlotte on Wednesday. That game had to be postponed due to COVID-19 concerns within the Hornets’ organization.

All of those developments led the NBA to re-route the Pistons to Chicago. And for the first time in 13 months, the Pistons carry a winning streak into a game.

It’s a modest two-game upswing, but they hadn’t enjoyed back-to-back victories since last January. They collected a win in Boston on Friday and a home victory over New Orleans on Sunday.

The Pistons made national headlines Monday when they announced that former All-Star forward Blake Griffin would sit out while they attempted to trade him or buy out the remainder of his contract.

Griffin, whose effectiveness had waned due to multiple knee injuries, no longer was a fit on a rebuilding team.

Rookie Saddiq Bey will replace him in the starting lineup, with Jerami Grant moving from small forward to power forward. Sekou Doumbouya, who is in the league’s concussion protocol, and Svi Mykhailiuk will receive more playing time off the bench.

“It’s a situation where we’re rebuilding, or retooling, and we have to give minutes to guys like Saddiq, like Sekou, like Svi,” coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s no disrespect to (Griffin); we respect him as much as anybody.”

Bey was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. He had a career-high 30 points, including a 7-for-7 performance beyond the arc, against the Celtics, then contributed 16 points, six assists and three steals in the 123-112 win over New Orleans.

“Saddiq having a big man kind of accelerated things (with Griffin),” Casey said.

The Bulls are coming off a 120-112 overtime victory at Indiana on Monday behind a 30-point outing from Zach LaVine. They welcomed back center Wendell Carter Jr., who had missed the previous 11 games with a quad contusion.

“I got winded pretty quickly, which I knew was going to happen, especially going against a team like Indiana,” said Carter, who played 21 minutes and contributed 11 points and nine rebounds.

Carter had some struggles, committing five fouls and four turnovers, but that was to be expected after a layoff.

“I thought he looked good,” coach Billy Donovan said. “I still think he was trying to get his timing back offensively with some of those short floaters. But overall, his presence was good at the basket. He played good defense. I think just getting back into the flow of our offense, a lot of the reaching, grabbing and slapping, he had some turnovers. But overall, I thought he looked good physically.”