Pistons look to extend winning streak against Bulls

Blake Griffin sees the arrow pointing upward for the Detroit Pistons.

The team’s star power forward feels they’re getting close to gaining the consistency needed to become a playoff team. The Pistons have won three straight, all at home, and seven of their last nine games. They host the Chicago Bulls on Friday as they continue a six-game homestand.

“I truly believe we’ve gotten better, better each week as the season has gone on,” Griffin said. “We’ve seen improvements in certain areas. Sometimes, you just have bad games but I think our understanding of what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it is getting much better.”

Griffin has been excellent throughout the season as the Pistons have built an 11-7 record, fifth best in the Eastern Conference. He reached the 30-point mark for the sixth time this season on Tuesday, scoring exactly that in a 115-108 win over the New York Knicks.

Griffin didn’t make any of his 3-point attempts but he tied a season high with 16 free-throw attempts and made 12.

“Blake used his experience in the post and is finally getting some respect in the post that he deserves,” coach Dwane Casey said. “Not too many teams have a post-up player like Blake in the league that demands to see how you’re going to call it. Are you going to let them forearm shiver in the back and create the contact? It’s a different officiating mindset.”

Detroit’s bench, led by Stanley Johnson, has provided a big spark in the last two games. The reserves scored 50 points against the Knicks and 47 in the previous outing against Phoenix.

Johnson supplied 21 points on Tuesday and is averaging 12.4 points over his last nine games. He’s become a much bigger factor since being shifted to the bench in early November.

“The most important thing Stanley is doing right now is his defense,” Casey said. “We leave him in there with the first unit (in crunch time) because of his defense. He’s getting buckets mainly because of steals and overplays and getting out and running the floor.”

Griffin scored 33 points when the teams met during the second game of the season, a 118-116 Pistons victory in Chicago.

The Bulls (5-17) have lost eight of their last nine and four straight, though the last two games have been decided by a total of four points.

Milwaukee defeated them 116-113 on Wednesday when Bucks swingman Khris Middleton made a tie-breaking 3-pointer in the closing seconds.

“I love how we’re competing right now,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You take away that second quarter against Miami (when they were outscored 32-13), we’re playing really well our last three games. … We fought San Antonio all the way to the end (a 108-107 loss). Had a chance to win that game on the last possession. Then (Wednesday), against a team that’s extremely tough to beat in this building, one of the best atmospheres in the league, I thought we came out and did a lot of good things. I thought we did execute down the stretch.”

Chicago has been the Eastern Conference’s unluckiest team in terms of injuries. Starters Lauri Markkanen (elbow) and Kris Dunn (knee) along with top reserve Bobby Portis (knee) are still unavailable. Another key reserve, Denzel Valentine, underwent season-ending ankle surgery this week.