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Category → Game Preview

Pistons host the Heat

Essentials

  • Teams: Miami heat (48-22) at Detroit Pistons (26-45)
  • Date: March 28, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Detroit Pistons will host the Miami Heat tonight in a matchup that could prove quite exciting.

Miami is coming off a tough defeat at the hands of the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, in a game that may have decided the Eastern Conference’s top seed.

LeBron James was sensational in the outing, pouring in 38 points in a variety of ways at the expense of the Indiana defense. Dwyane Wade was the only other player for the Heat to score in double figures with 15 points.

The Heat were sloppy with the ball – credit to the Pacers defense – and committed 18 miscues. James and Wade combined for 12 of them.

Given what was at stake in that matchup (home court advantage), it’s entirely possible that Miami might decide to take things a bit easy down the stretch of the regular season.

Wade left the game late because of a hamstring injury, and Ray Allen missed the contest due to illness. What’s more, James had back issues a little over a week ago that forced him to sit out a contest.

Allen is scheduled to miss tonight’s game, while Wade’s status remains up in the air. Nonetheless, James will be in the lineup, and that might be the only development that matters ultimately.

James is coming off back-to-back- 30-point games, and his presence alone might bring some excitement.

The Pistons seem headed for the lottery, but that doesn’t mean they cannot give fans some compelling games along the way. Let’s hope tonight is one of them.

Read about the Heat

Heat Index

Pistons host an odd Cavs team

Essentials

  • Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers (28-44) at Detroit Pistons (26-44)
  • Date: March 26, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Cleveland Cavaliers are dysfunctional.

The Cavs made moves during the offseason with the hope of finally making it back to the playoffs for the first time since LeBron James uttered the words “South Beach” on national television. That goal is still mathematically alive, but the odds aren’t in Cleveland’s favor.

The Cavaliers have to overtake the New York Knicks (ninth seed) and Atlanta Hawks (eighth seed) to make it into the postseason. Atlanta has six less losses, and it will be extremely difficult for Cleveland to catch them.

When we present these facts without context, it seems to line up with the direction the franchise has taken for the most part since the 2010 summer. However, the 2013-14 season has been particularly awful, even by Cleveland’s standards.

The Cavs started things out by selecting Anthony Bennett in the 2013 draft. Although it’s far too early to call him a bust, Bennett has struggled in his rookie season as evidenced by his averages of 4.1 points and 2.9 rebounds per game on 35.2 percent field-goal shooting.

What’s more, the pairing of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters has been a failure.

The tandem has exhibited little chemistry over the course of the season (they have instances where they keep the ball away from each other), and it all culminated into a players meeting that hurt more than it helped per ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard (Insider).

And yet, the front office surpassed itself by signing Andrew Bynum, thinking he would help them get to one of the last postseason spots. Instead, the move failed, and in effort to get rid of his non-guaranteed contract, Cleveland traded Bynum to the Chicago Bulls for Luol Deng.

Deng left a franchise with a strong sense of direction and commitment to winning, for one that appeared to be clueless in every important facet that helps produce a successful ball club.

As a result, Deng was unhappy about being traded to Cleveland according to Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News:

Deng has seen how a team mired in losing since LeBron James left town wrongly caters to its young star players, even as they continue to undermine head coach Mike Brown at almost every turn. In Chicago, where Deng broke in and played nine-plus seasons, there is a winning culture where players are expected to act like professionals and understand that they will suffer the consequences if they step out of line.

The addition of Deng did little for the Cavs, so they made a trade to acquire Spencer Hawes. Yet and still, the Cavs look nothing like a playoff team. Irving is currently sidelined because of a biceps injury, and the team has looked incredibly flawed in his absence (as opposed to “just flawed”).

Cleveland owns a bottom-third offense because the players do not believe in sharing. The Cavs have a tendency to shoot the ball after the first pass. When that fails, the one bringing up the ball simply fires up a field goal whenever he is good and ready.

In related news, the Cavs are 23rd in assists per game. Even Deng has been contaminated. He has embraced the idea of occasionally taking ill-advised shots after spending some time alongside Waiters.

There is no easy way to say this: The Cavs have selfish tendencies and are tough to watch at times. The right play is often replaced by an incomprehensible decision, and that’s been Cleveland’s season in a nutshell.

Way to sell tonight’s game versus the Detroit Pistons huh?

Read about the Cavs

Cavs the Blog

Pistons at Jazz: the Tank Bowl

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (25-44) at Utah Jazz (23-47)
  • Date: March 24, 2014
  • Time: 9:00 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Detroit Pistons have failed so far this season. The only way they can remedy this, is by continuing to drop in the standings.

It appears as though Detroit will miss the playoffs, and they will head into the offseason with more questions than answers. If they get a top pick in the draft, they could contemplate trading it for an above-average player provided that there is a market for such a deal.

However, the front office hardly inspires confidence in terms of building an adequate roster, which makes it far more likely for the Pistons to keep the pick. Before the NBA draft arrives, the Pistons must deal with this formality called “the regular season”.

It’s in Detroit’s best interests to lose, but athletes are hardly conditioned as such.

What’s more, going into Salt Lake City for a bout with the Utah Jazz is a rather odd proposition. Utah has historically been a difficult opponent at home, but they too are in the same boat as Detroit. Interestingly enough, the Jazz embraced the tanking idea fairly early on in 2013-14, while the Pistons recently joined the party.

Neither team will be confused with the Philadelphia 76ers (losers of 24 straight contests heading into tonight’s match with the San Antonio Spurs), but they still operate within the lower depths of their respective conferences.

Detroit has lost five straight games, and eight of their last 10. On the flip side, Utah recently ended a six-game losing streak, and owns the same record as tonight’s opponent over the last 10 contests.

Someone has to win tonight’s game, but I’m just not sure which team that will be, and what the added value of a victory will be.

That’s what tanking will do for you…

Read about the Jazz

Salt City Hoops

Pistons face title contender: L.A. Clippers

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (25-43) at Los Angeles Clippers (48-21)
  • Date: March 22, 2014
  • Time: 10:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Los Angeles Clippers are title contenders folks.

Doc Rivers’ group possesses a top-10 offense and defense, and that might be just enough to get them to the NBA Finals in a brutal Western Conference.

Offensively, the Clippers run some smooth sets designed to take advantage of their strengths. Los Angeles has strong perimeter creators coupled with destructive finishers at the basket.

Thus, their game plan typically revolves around meshing both together. The Clips keep the ball flowing from one player to the next, to ensure it doesn’t stick too long with one guy.

This explains why their isolations numbers have dipped this season in comparison to last year per Synergy Sports. Instead, they are running more pick-and-rolls, but they also have a clearer purpose.

Rivers runs plays designed to force defenses into rotations, and then unleashes the pick-and-roll to create an abundance of options. The action routinely creates either open jumpers, or a high-percentage look right at the basket.

Because LAC has solid ball-handlers, defenses may occasionally opt to stay at home on players, which opens up the lane for penetrators to get all the way to the basket. One of the most fascinating aspects of the offense is that it’s functioned as of late despite the absence of some important pieces.

J.J. Redick, the team’s best shooter, has been in and out of the lineup this season, while Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison were sidelined up until recently. According to Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles, Crawford and Collison should be in the lineup tonight, while Redick’s improving health likely means he will be back on the floor soon.

Until Redick returns, the coaching staff will continue putting their trust into Danny Granger. The former Indiana Pacer is only converting 43.1 percent of his shots as a Clipper, but he gives the team a bit of diversity.

Granger stretches the floor with his long-range shooting, and he has the capability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. Perhaps one of the most surprising dimensions he brings to L.A. is the ability to create solid looks from the low-post area when matched up against a defender that can’t handle his 6’8’’ frame.

To be clear, Granger isn’t the guy that puts the Clippers over the top, but his presence helps maintain a semblance a perimeter balance when the likes of Crawford and Matt Barnes are either struggling or injured.

On the other side of the court, the Clippers are very good defensively, but they are not a lockdown team. The rotations are there, but they aren’t always perfectly timed. Chris Paul and Co. can get away with it against most teams because of the freakish athleticism of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but the best scoring teams in the league will make them pay for the lack of synergy on this front.

Still, the Clippers have been good enough on both ends to warrant inclusion in the title discussion. They boast the second-biggest scoring differential in the league (plus-7.1) and are virtually unbeatable at home as evidenced by their 29-5 record at Staples Center.

In addition, their strengths line up perfectly with the weaknesses of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Put it all together, and the Clippers have the second-best odds of winning the championship according to Hollinger’s Playoff Odds.

Hoop with the Harm

The MVP discussion evidently will come down to Kevin Durant and LeBron James, with every other elite player watching it unfold seemingly from the sidelines. It looks as though Durant will cash in for the award because James appears to be wearing down.

The wear and tear from the last-three consecutive runs to the NBA Finals might finally be catching up with the reigning league MVP. If such is the case, the guy quietly in the third spot might make his way into the discussion. His name: Blake Griffin.

Griffin’s been the best player on a team projected to win 57 games, and he stepped his game up immensely during the absence of Chris Paul. During the month of February, Griffin averaged 30 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game on 54.5 percent field-goal shooting.

With Paul returning, Griffin got reacquainted with his point guard and adjusted his game. The highflyer’s numbers in March: 24.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game 50.6 percent shooting from the field. An argument could be made that he’s been the best power forward in the league.

Griffin probably won’t win the Maurice Podoloff award, but he has certainly thrown his name into the hat of “emergency candidates” when it appeared as though only two names really mattered.

Read about the Clippers

Clipperblog

Andre Drummond to play against Suns

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (25-42) at Phoenix Suns (39-29)
  • Date: March 21, 2014
  • Time: 10 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Detroit

    What to watch for

  • David Mayo of MLive:

    Andre Drummond said he will play tonight for the Detroit Pistons when they face the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center.

    Best of all, I’m glad Drummond is OK after a scary-looking injury.

    And fear not, tanking supporters. Though Drummond obviously contributes significantly individually, his return will bring back the Pistons’ biggest tanking weapon of all: the Josh Smith-Greg Monroe-Drummond lineups.

    A bigger tanking concern lies with the Suns, who’ve lost four of seven, including a home loss to Cleveland. As their playoff chances dwindle, might they be losing focus? I sure hope not, and considering they’ve won three of their last four following a three-game losing streak, I think they’re getting back on track.

    Read about the Suns

    Valley of the Suns

    Pistons travel to take on Denver Nuggets

    Essentials

    • Teams: Detroit Pistons (25-41) at Denver Nuggets (30-37)
    • Date: March 18, 2014
    • Time: 9:00 p.m.
    • Television: FSD

    What to look for

    The Denver Nuggets are no longer the team that George Karl coached to 57 wins last season.

    That team featured a top-five offense predicated on seemingly flawless offensive execution despite a lack of shooters. Indeed, Denver simply ran play after play on the same possession and stretched defensive rotations to the maximum.

    The end result was a lot of forays to the hoop, and when those failed, they attacked the basket for second-chance opportunities. Still, Karl’s Nuggets were an interesting team from the standpoint that they did not adhere to the evolution of the game.

    Basketball has become a game of spacing, timing and cohesion. No longer is it sufficient to have the best players, strategies and ideologies are just as important.

    And yet, the Nuggets were built around slashing players and big men, coupled with a lighting fast point guard in Ty Lawson. Under Karl, the Nuggets ran some plays that consistently produced high-percentage looks despite the fact they really could not adequately stretch the floor.

    Karl has since been replaced by Brian Shaw, and Denver has had some issues in his first year as a head coach in the league. The offense tends to stagnate, and players regularly embrace the challenge of playing one-on-one basketball to the detriment of teammates.

    What’s more, gone are the beautiful plays that consistently compromised defenses. That’s not necessarily a death sentence, but Denver is a team of finishers, and they need the table set for them.

    Without the benefit of sets that create advantageous matchups whereby players catch the ball in movement heading to the rim, the Denver highflyers are left to their own devices to score. Needless to say, that formula has been less than stellar as evidenced by the fact the Nuggets have a bottom-third offense this season.

    Granted, Shaw has lost quality players to either injuries, trades or poor behavior. Danilo Gallinari has not played this season, while JaVale McGee and Nate Robinson have appeared in a combined 49 games.

    Andre Miller had some issues with the coaching staff, which resulted in some time away from the team before he was eventually traded to the Washington Wizards.

    Nonetheless, the Nuggets should be feared, especially when playing at home. They recently dispatched a red hot Los Angeles Clippers team as well the Miami Heat. They even collected a victory against the Indiana Pacers earlier this year.

    Again, the Nuggets have athletes, and if opponents get into a track meet with them, they have the potential to run teams off the court. It will be interesting to see how the Detroit Pistons approach the contest.

    Detroit typically crashes the boards and gets a multitude of chances to score off them. That could be enough to slow down the Nuggets and force them into playing in the half court where they struggle. On the other hand, if the Pistons are unsuccessful on the glass and still send guys there, they might spend the game watching Denver score in transition.

    Read about the Nuggets

    Roundball Mining Company

    Pacers at the Palace

    Essentials

    • Teams: Indiana Pacers (48-17) at Detroit Pistons (25-40)
    • Date: March 15, 2014
    • Time: 7:30 p.m.
    • Television: FSD

    What to look for

    Are the Indiana Pacers the best team in the league?

    That was the sentiment through the early portion of the regular season, but they have since loosened their grip on the rest of the league. What’s more, upper-echelon teams such as the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers have narrowed the gap, or perhaps even surpassed the Pacers.

    Indy no longer boasts the best record in the league, and Miami is within striking distance of overtaking them for the best record in the Eastern Conference. Consequently, it’s only natural for some to think the Pacers are starting to fade.

    Don’t let that fool you.

    Indiana still has the best defense in the league, and that alone is enough to make them a terrifying opponent. The Pacers suffocate teams by escorting perimeter players to the basket where Roy Hibbert is more than happy to change shots and blow up plays.

    Also, Indiana is a bruising physical team that relies on archaic basketball principles. The NBA strategy du jour involves downsizing lineups to spread the floor with shooters and open up things for drives and open 3-point shots.

    However, the Pacers do not subscribe to such basketball ideologies. Instead, they play two traditional big men and surround them with three perimeter players. These are the type of five-man units the previous generation grew up on, and Indiana is more than happy to stick with historical precedent.

    It works for them. Indiana’s lineups aren’t always ideal given that they contribute to their porous offense. Nonetheless, the Pacers defense is enough to put them in the championship discussion.

    Can they win the title? We won’t get an answer before June. But until that time comes, pay careful attention to the journey itself, it might provide us with some insights before the postseason actually materializes itself.

    Read about the Pacers

    8 points 9 seconds

    Where does Andre Drummond rank among the NBA’s most-fun players?

    Essentials

    • Teams: Detroit Pistons (25-39) at Toronto Raptors (35-27)
    • Date: March 12, 2014
    • Time: 7 p.m.
    • Television: Fox Sports Detroit

    What to look for

    Tim answered a few questions for a Raptors Republic preview, including this thoughtful response about how much joy Andre Drummond brings:

    2) Is Drummond the most fun player in the league and, if not, where does he rank?

    Drummond is easily the most fun Piston, but probably not the most fun player in the league. The majority of really exhilarating plays involve ball handling. Drummond is actually shockingly good at that for a young big man, but he rarely touches the ball because he doesn’t want to get sent to the stripe. If you prefer Noah, Love, or Davis, I’ll understand, but I’ll rank Drummond as the most fun big man.

    Check out the rest of the Q&A and understand why a Toronto writer is focused on fun: The Raptors are a really fun team. They play all out, and they use their athleticism to fuel their success – the exact recipe many hoped the Pistons would follow this season.

    The Raptors will likely enjoy playing this game, not because they’re likely to win (though they are), but because it seems they enjoy playing every game. There’s no question I’m jealous how their season turned out, especially considering they seemed to fit a similar profile to the Pistons before the season began.

    Hopefully, the Pistons – win or lose – find some way to have Drummond-sized fun north of the border.

    Read about the Raptors

    Raptors Republic

    Pistons host Kings and the Boogie Express

    Essentials

    • Teams: Sacramento Kings (22-41) at Detroit Pistons (24-39)
    • Date: March 11, 2014
    • Time: 7:30 p.m.
    • Television: FSD

    What to look for

    The Detroit Pistons will welcome the Sacramento Kings tonight at the Palace of Auburn Hills as well as what I like to call the “High-Paid Player Offense”.

    The Kings’ offense basically revolves around their top-three players, and there isn’t a lot of variety in their scheme. Sacramento will run a few set plays here and there, but for the most part, it’s an offense predicated on the pick-and-roll to get things started.

    That gets players moving a little, which forces the defense to shift as well. From there, the Kings put the ball in the hands of Isaiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins or Rudy Gay, and watch them go to work. Typically, this could produce some mixed results given how predictable Sacramento is on this front.

    Have a look at a Kings set that features Cousins:

    His teammates eventually get him the ball, but it takes some time before players find a good entry pass, and even then, an argument could be made they were lucky it wasn’t stolen. Once the top guys get their hands on the ball, good things usually follow, but they still need to get it in places where they are effective, which can be challenging.

    However, to head coach Michael Malone’s credit, the trio has performed admirably. All three are averaging over 20 points per game and converting north of 45 percent of their field goals as members of the Kings.

    Cousins still occasionally takes low-percentage mid-range jumpers, but he’s toned it down a little. Cousins is still attempting shots from the mid-range area, but he’s doing a better job of making sure he is open when doing so. Coincidentally, his conversion rate from this area has improved a little per NBA.com.

    The one guy that’s really taken a step forward though is Gay. He struggled with the Toronto Raptors and relied heavily on the High-Paid Player Offense. Gay endlessly dribbled the ball, allowed defenses to load up on him, and he still took a multitude of tough contested shots. Consequently, Gay’s field goals couldn’t hit water no matter how close he was to shore as evidenced by the fact he only hit 38.8 percent of his shots as a member of the Toronto club.

    Have a quick look at his shooting percentages as a Raptor from various spots on the floor over at NBA.com. And yet, Gay quickly reversed course in Sacramento. He’s been more decisive, and the offense is more to his liking.

    Gay gets more one-on-one opportunities with the Kings as a result of defenders keying in on Cousins.  Hence, the former Raptor gets easier attempts at the rim, and the same is true in the mid-range area with defenders consistently retreating towards the paint. The Kings’ offense coupled with its personnel has caused a huge spike in Gay’s shooting numbers per NBA.com.

    Thomas, Gay and Cousins are productive players in their own rights, but none of them truly carry the scoring burden of Sacramento. They get their points, but do little to elevate the rest of their teammates. As a result, the Kings are basically an average scoring team.

    With that said, it will certainly be intriguing to see how they match up with the Pistons. Sacto’s big three could potentially get neutralized by Detroit’s players at their respective positions. Granted, Detroit is more about potential at this point (still learning how to play together) in time, whereas the Kings “stars” have reached the production phases of their careers.

    Read about the Kings

    Cowbell Kingdom

     

    Pistons at Celtics: not challenging for the throne

    Essentials

    • Teams: Detroit Pistons (24-38) at Boston Celtics (21-41)
    • Date: March 9, 2014
    • Time: 6:00 p.m.
    • Television: FSD, NBA TV

    What to look for

    The Detroit Pistons will be on the road this evening for a matchup of subpar teams. The Boston Celtics, much like the Pistons, have a bad record and lack talent for the most part.

    When looking at the last 10-game stretches for both franchises, it’s not pretty. Collectively, they have won five of their past 20 contests. This means they have a total of 15 losses during the same time span, but then again, things could be worse.

    The Philadelphia 76ers have lost 16 straight games and could potentially lose every remaining game on their calendar this season. It’s a little things that count in life.

    Philly is perfecting tanking, Boston is doing its best to look competent (and competitive) while losing games, while Detroit is doing…something.

    The Celtics and Pistons are only separated by three games in the victory column, but both units had opposite goals at the start of the season. An argument could be made that Detroit is in the process of recalibrating objectives for the sake of borrowing Philadelphia and Boston’s path.

    By accumulating losses, these teams give themselves a chance at acquiring perhaps a top-five pick in the NBA draft. The fascinating thing about the Pistons is that we cannot unequivocally state they are in sabotage mode.

    If they were, they likely would have kept the coaching staff intact and come up with a few bogus injuries to their starters for the sake of ensuring they were not too good. But that’s not what’s happening.

    The Pistons are giving it their all, and well, it’s leading them in the same direction as the Celtics. Which team has more of an incentive to win tonight’s contest?

    Your guess is as good as mine.

    Read about the Celtics

    Celtics Hub