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Pistons limit Dwight Howard, but Magic exploit flaw in Detroit’s defense

Maybe the Pistons can still contain Dwight Howard, after all.

It wasn’t long ago the Pistons gave Howard – and by extension the Magic – more trouble than any team in the NBA. Detroit limited him while defending him one-on-one. That allowed the other four Pistons on the court to excel.

Often, the latter part of that equation – the other four players dominating – was lost in the discussion. After all, it’s understandable slowing the game’s top center steals the headlines.

But the other side was essential to all those wins, and that should be clear after the Pistons’ uneven defensive performance tonight led to a 90-79 defeat – their fourth straight loss to the Magic.

The glass-half-full version of the defense: Ben Wallace and Greg Monroe played excellently on Dwight Howard inside.

The glass-half-empty version: the rest of the team struggled to defend the perimeter.

This was the Pistons’ best game for interior defense of the year. Wallace often kept Howard a few feet farther from the basket than he’d like to be and did so on his own. Monroe needed more help at times, but his relentless energy forced a couple steals and prevented Howard from getting comfortable.

Together, they held Howard to season lows for points (nine) and free-throw attempts (two). Howard also matched a season high with six turnovers.

Tonight should serve as a reminder of what the Pistons have defensively – Wallace can still bring it – and what they will have – Monroe always played hard, and once he adds a little strength, look out. I didn’t think Monroe was ready for a matchup like this. He was.

But tonight unfortunately also serves as a remind of what the Pistons have: a poor perimeter defense.

The Pistons entered the game with the league’s best 3-point defense (.301) – a fool’s gold stat. Detroit’s opponents don’t need to shoot a lot of 3-pointers.

The Pistons’ opponents make 17.2 shots at the rim per game, second most in the league behind the Knicks. When you consider how much faster the Knicks play than the Pistons, Detroit is probably the worst team in the league at defending the rim.

So, teams only shoot 3-pointers against the Pistons when the primary option – dunks and layups – fails. Credit Detroit for taking away Orlando’s primary option, but when push came to shove, the Pistons got shoved. The Magic made 10-of-24 3-pointers.

Despite the 11-point margin of defeat, the Pistons really made Orlando earn the victory. For a half, they looked like the team they used to be. For a half, they looked like the team they are.

I suppose, that’s as much as we can hope for in games like these.

Rashard Lewis goes off… against Charlie Villanueva

A lot of Pistons fans, myself included, have given John Kuester plenty of grief this season. Some of it’s deserved, but I think a lot of it is unfairly based on hindsight. So, I’m happy to do the opposite here.

I was wrong in the preview of tonight’s game. If you missed it, I said:

Jason Maxiell does not matchup well with Rashard Lewis. I repeat: Jason Maxiell does not matchup well with Rashard Lewis. One more time in case you missed it: Jason Maxiell does not matchup well with Rashard Lewis.

Kuester initially said Maxiell was starting because of matchups. If he starts tonight, it’s because Kuester believes he’s better right now than Austin Daye. There’s no other way to spin it.

I hope Daye or Charlie Villanueva gets the nod. Maxiell, even with his smaller size, would probably be the Pistons’ best match off the bench for Dwight Howard.

Lewis led the Magic with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting, but a bulk of that damage came with Villanueva, not Maxiell, guarding him.

Against Maxiell, Lewis shot 4-of-7 for nine points in 17:49.

Against Villanueva, Lewis shot 3-of-3 for 11 points in 10:30.

I don’t mean this to be a knock on Villanueva, by the way. He played very well tonight, doing a little bit of everything – scoring inside and outside, rebounding, hustling and, yes, playing defense. (Villanueva had two blocks and a steal.) But his strong defense just didn’t come against Lewis.

So, Kuester was right to have Maxiell guard Lewis for a majority of the Magic forward’s minutes.

Tayshaun Prince takes point-guard duties from Rodney Stuckey

Tayshaun Prince has become the Pistons’ point guard in the halfcourt. Rodney Stuckey often dribbled the ball up court tonight, only to pass to Prince, who initiated the offense.

This is a lot of praise for John Kuester in one post, especially after a loss, but I love the strategy for a few reasons.

1. Stuckey can attack unsuspecting defenses. By bringing the ball up himself, he still has the option to drive to the basket if the defense isn’t set. He’s done that quite a bit this season, with good results.

2. Stuckey plays better off the ball. I still think he has more potential as a point guard than an off guard, but he’s definitely better off the ball right now. Last year, he played at his best next to Chucky Atkins, and this plan creates similar opportunities for Stuckey.

3. Prince stays engaged in the game. It happened in the best of times, but it’s been more common now: Prince resigns himself to being a secondary option and his focus and intensity dwindle. But if you force the ball into his hands, that’s less likely to happen. He hustled tonight, even stopping a four-on-one fastbreak in the first quarter.

I criticized the Pistons’ lack of roles earlier in the day, but I love this. I think there’s a clear distinction, though.

Often, the Pistons ask their players to do a little bit of everything. I don’t think that’s a sound strategy. But that doesn’t mean having players who can do multiple things and play multiple positions is a negative.

The Pistons are clearly telling Stuckey to bring the ball up court. They’re clearly telling Prince to initiate the offense.

Traditionally, teams have one player do that, but so what? Redefining roles is absolutely fine.

It’s just important to have roles.

Ben Gordon doesn’t kill Pistons’ chances, and that’s a mild victory

Ben Gordon missed his first two shots – in rather ugly fashion, at that. But then he drilled a 3-pointer on his third shot.

That ability for Gordon not to let slow starts sink him has been a nice improvement this year.

He only made 4-of-10 shots tonight, but he stayed above the Diawara Line with a .479 true-shooting percentage. Basically, that means he did enough not to destroy the Pistons’ chances of winning.

Gordon has now surpassed the Diawara Line in 83.3 percent of his games, a very solid mark.

Not much from Tracy McGrady

Tracy McGrady didn’t excel against another of his former teams like he did against the Knicks on Sunday. He had three points (1-of-4 shooting), three rebounds, two assists and a team-worst minus-11 plus-minus rating in 16 minutes.

So much for the extra-motivation theory.

Ben Wallace rides the bench down the stretch

Ben Wallace didn’t play in the fourth quarter. Again.

Is it time to follow up with John Kuester about whether there’s really nothing to it?

9 Comments

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Detroit Pistons and PistonPowered Feed, Patrick Hayes. Patrick Hayes said: From @PistonPowered: Pistons limit Dwight Howard, but Magic exploit flaw in Detroit’s defense http://bit.ly/hG5Exg [...]

  • Nov 30, 201011:39 pm
    by Rodman4Life

    Reply

    Good post, Dan.  That’s exactly what I saw.

  • Dec 1, 201012:51 am
    by Laser

    Reply

    good call on the “fool’s gold” stat. those are the only favorable stats that the pistons have, like bench points. or how we have decent turnover numbers, but that’s easy when nobody makes plays; it’s easy to win the TO battle in fantasy when you don’t play any point guards. last year it was offensive boards. it’s a joke. 3-point % is sort of a gray area, because it’s kind of a neutral stat for reasons you stated; 3-pointers are still jump shots, so they’re not necessarily “good” shots to take. “live by the three” and all that… points in the paint are much more reliable.
     
    keith langlois once again wrote a piece about how the pistons really “let one get away.” right. but apparently some people buy that BS, because one of the trainers at my gym was surprised they lost after leading for most of the game. talk about fool’s gold. when it comes to the pistons playing a good team, no lead is safe with say 9 minutes left. and i’d say against a team like the magic, it’s probably a coin flip if the pistons were up by say 20 with 6 minutes left. apparently the pistons are still awaiting their “signature win,” but if that means a win against a consensus playoff team, it could be a LOOOOOONG wait.
     
    go stones! in joe we trust!

  • Dec 1, 20107:53 am
    by detroitpcb

    Reply

    don’t know what you are talking about because Ben Gordon lost that game for the Pistons in the 4th quarter.

    First he took a bad shot on the right wing after T-Mac passed him the ball. Gordon held it and then settled. Then he turns the ball over on the fast break (which would have put the Pistons up 7) after T-Mac made a nice pass down the center of the court to him. Then he misses a wide open three off a good ball rotation. Meanwhile he gets caught sagging twice and his man hits two wide open threes. Then Gordon makes a difficult 2 from the right baseline. Then he gets called for an offensive foul. He just killed Detroit’s chances. I have no idea why Q kept him in the game.

    I am probably alone in this but i would far rather see Austin Daye on the court in crunch time than either Rip or Ben Gordon. No one guarding him can bother his shot and i think the kid will be clutch.

    Q is the worst coach in the league.

  • Dec 1, 20108:07 am
    by detroitpcb

    Reply

    If there ever was a player who deserved a fist year nomination and entrance to the Hall of Fame, it is Dennis Rodman

    and how about Greg Monroe? That block on the break was sweet. He has no hops which makes it hard for him to finish around the basket but he is athletic, he moves real well, has good anticipation, quick hands (good hands too – he catches well but needs to built strenght there too – he still gets stripped to easily) and he is showing me great heart. The kid is going to be a real nice player

  • Pingback

    Dec 1, 20109:03 am
    by A Second Look at Magic/Pistons

    Reply

    [...] Dan Feldman of Piston Powered: “This was the Pistons’ best game for interior defense of the year. Wallace often kept Howard a few feet farther from the basket than he’d like to be and did so on his own. Monroe needed more help at times, but his relentless energy forced a couple steals and prevented Howard from getting comfortable.” [...]

  • Dec 1, 201011:58 am
    by Laser

    Reply

    on max/villa: one problem with this team is that we seem to be trying to make up for our shortcomings by matching up defensively, so max is in there to counter opposing bigs. only we’re not good enough defensively for that to be a winning formula. max and ben are NOT a starting front court. they provide no upside whatsoever (and, heck, they combined for just 10 REB in 46 min, since max collected just one), they don’t spread the floor or present offensive threats, and they’re just “ok to good” defensively.” it would be a different story if they were a force down low. we signed charlie, we know who he is; he’s got his drawbacks, but his upside is significant, and i think you could make a stronger case that he’s the best option. sometimes he’s going to be a serious defensive liability, but sometimes he’s going to win the starting PF battle by spreading the floor and hitting shots. jason maxiell is fighting an uphill battle every single night, because if he’s not playing suffocating defense, he’s useless. and good offense always beats good defense anyways, so let’s give “good offense” a try. uh, for once. we’re almost 1/4 through the season already, losing games at at a 67% clip, and villa hasn’t gotten so much as a whiff at starting.
     
    on stuckey: having stuckey come across the timeline and have prince initiate the offense might be the best “win now” strategy, but it’s not sustainable. and we’re not winning anyways! for one, we’d have to be out of our minds to retain prince (so, uh, there’s a fair chance we do just that). second, we need to sh*t or get off the pot with this shooting guard situation. i was always angry when bynum played our garbage minutes at the end of games, because i felt like stuckey was the one who needed practice making plays. if he’s our point guard, make him run the point so we can make an easier decision about which way to go. having him stick around but not have to learn the damn position he’s supposed to play for the foreseeable future is the worst possible plan for the team’s long-term prospects. plus we’re not winning.
     
    on daye: would have been a hell of a game for him to play. god knows lewis isn’t a physical player, and i think daye’s length would have bothered him. also i hate to see that kid sit. absolutely hate it.
     
    on true shooting percentage: i misused the term earlier and did some research on it. it sounded unnecessarily complicated and seems objectively less useful than looking at points scored and shots attempted and doing the math. what use on earth would any sane person have for true shooting percentage? all these advanced stats are a waste of time, right? he took 10 shots, he scored 10 points. what more is there to know??
     
    on ben wallace: with all due respect, could we just can it with this topic? his average is 25 minutes. he played 40 against the knicks and we lost. we’re on the front end of a back-to-back. so he didn’t play. it’s a running theme. is this really worth discussing? no conspiracy theory here, they’re just trying to keep him fresh. so their timing is bad, the pistons aren’t being transparent, and the strategy is failing… what else is new?

  • Dec 1, 20102:56 pm
    by Rodman4Life

    Reply

    @Laser
    welcome back to the world of insights.  Have to agree with most of what you said.  Against these good teams, we’re gonna have to keep it close and then someone is going to get on fire for us to pull it out.  We did a great job on Dwight, but he actually showed maturity by not forcing anything on a tough night and trusting his teammates to get it done.  I love Ben, but we can only reasonably expect him to stop Dwight on a couple of possessions in a row or something.  If Dwight had really needed to “exert his will” last night, I think he would have eventually overpowered us.  It may have been closer and more ugly, but Orlando would have prevailed still.

  • [...] Dan Feldman at Piston Powered finds a glimmer of hope in Detroit’s loss: Greg [...]

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