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Category → Game Preview

Pistons at Wolves: all eyes on Kevin Love

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (24-37) at Minnesota Timberwolves (30-30)
  • Date: March 7, 2014
  • Time: 8:00 p.m.
  • Television: FS Detroit Plus

What to look for

Expectations are a funny thing in pro sports. When a fan base simply wishes for its team to be competent, and this materializes itself, satisfaction ensues even if the overall record is mediocre.

On the flip side, when great things are expected, and failure is produced, well that tends to suck.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are somewhere in between both scenarios. This was the year the Wolves were supposed to make the playoffs. Over the course of the summer, a panel (as a matter of full disclosure, I was part of it) of ESPN analysts were surveyed, which resulted in the ESPN Summer Forecast.

The general consensus had Minnesota claiming the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings, good enough for the final playoff spot. The Wolves are still alive for this scenario, but the teams in the West are simply too good.

Thus, Minny is projected to miss the postseason despite the fact they will win around 43 games according to Hollinger’s Playoff Odds. Because many believe the season will play itself out as such, there have been rumblings that Kevin Love is overrated.

This is not necessarily a new conversation, but rather one that been gaining steam. A little over a year ago, Ball Don’t Lie’s Eric Freeman offered this point:

While he puts up obscene numbers and deserves his spots on All-Star and All-NBA teams, there’s some question as to whether or not he can be the clear-cut first option on a championship contender. For all his abilities, Love doesn’t always seem like the kind of player who can create good shots by himself.

This observation came on the heels of Derrick Favors stating Love was “just like any other stretch 4 in the league.”

Love is a talented player, and he is good enough for Minnesota to be in the playoff discussion, but perhaps not talented enough himself to elevate them without the aid of another star. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but one can only wonder if Wolves fans view it as such.

Detroit Pistons fans would probably kill for a player like Love regardless of Tyson Chandler’s assertions on his defense. Love is producing 26.5 points, 13.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game on 46.1 percent shooting from the floor this season.

That kind of production is what makes him a big name with respect to the 2015 free-agent class. The enigma of Love will be on full display tonight when Minnesota hosts Detroit.

The Pistons will have to deal with him on the boards, on the block, in the high post and in the pick-and-pop where he is quite lethal. It’s an odd thing: I would definitely want Love on my team, it just depends what team that is.

Read about the Timberwolves

A Wolf Among Wolves

Bulls at Pistons: Production meets potential

Essentials

  • Teams: Chicago Bulls (33-27) at Detroit Pistons (24-36)
  • Date: March 5, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

When the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons tip off tonight, it will be a clear battle of future versus present.

The Bulls are exactly where the Pistons hoped they would be despite the prolonged absence of Derrick Rose. There are two reasons why Chicago continues to overachieve despite losing their best player in consecutive seasons: defense and big men.

Since Tom Thibodeau became the Bulls’ head coach in 2010, the team has finished with a top-five defense in every campaign. Chicago is a physical team that challenges shooters, ball-handlers and interior players on each and every possession.

The Bulls grind out games and consistently remain within striking distance, thus affording them opportunities to win games late.

The second facet that makes Chicago so impressive is their combination of interior players, and the Pistons should most definitely pay attention.

The Bulls have a trio of big men that all complement each other in various ways that most teams in the league could only hope. On paper, the top-flight teams in the NBA have excellent interior players, but an argument could be made that with the exception of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, none of them have the synergy that occurs on a nightly basis in Chicago on both ends.

Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson consistently function (obviously, only two of them share the court together at a given time) as a solid tandem on both ends of the court at all times.

Boozer provides scoring punch via post-ups and jump shooting, but he is not a great defensive player. He lacks foot speed and can occasionally rotate late. Noah helps facilitate the offense with his passing and high-basketball IQ.

What’s more, Noah is a good deterrent at the rim and also a strong rebounder. He can switch in the pick-and-roll and defend perimeter players, a clear indication that he can blow up isolations and the screen-and-roll action of opponents.

In many ways, Noah protects Boozer defensively.

Gibson is a good finisher around the hoop and also a decent midrange shooter. On defense, he has the toughness and versatility to guard interior and perimeter players. Very rarely is he ever pushed around.

Put all three on the same team, and Thibodeau gets to pick and choose who starts and finishes games. Noah and Gibson are terrific at protecting the paint, while Boozer’s scoring and offensive might be needed if is struck in an offensive rut.

On the flip side, Detroit has three solid interior players in Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond. They have not yet found the right formula with respect to playing well together, but the answer could be in Chicago.

Instead of playing all three guys together, the Pistons might be better served by only using two of them at a time and then tweak things from there. The Pistons have the potential to be a scary defensive unit by virtue of their frontcourt, but that potential is still locked away somewhere.

Detroit will not morph into a defensive juggernaut overnight, but it’s worth observing if the changes progressively occur this season going into the next one. The frontcourts tonight should make for an entertaining battle that will decide the contest.

Read about the Bulls

Bulls by the Horns

Pistons have it good compared to NYK…

Essentials

  • Teams: New York Knicks (21-39) at Detroit Pistons (23-36)
  • Date: March 3, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Detroit Pistons are mired in a four-game losing streak, which is causing them to lose ground in the race for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. What’s more, the defeats have not been all that close.

During the streak, Detroit has been losing games by 8.8 points per game. They need a change in fortunes, and perhaps tonight is when that occurs. The Pistons will host the stumbling New York Knicks.

New York is in the midst of a six-game losing streak that makes them look practically like the Philadelphia 76ers. During this run, the Knicks are losing on average by 15 points per game.

Philly (currently on a 14-game losing streak) is losing games on average by 10.8 points this season, which suggests that they are closer to New York in terms of output than most would be willing to acknowledge.

It’s an interesting place for New York to be considering that owner James Dolan reportedly stated earlier in the season that he thought the team had enough to win the title this year. Yikes!

The Knicks were never truthfully talented enough to contend for a championship this season, but they should be much better than what they have looked like this season.

One of the issues plaguing the team is the inability to play in concert with each other on offense, and the complete lack of accountability on defense. Knicks players routinely are the last people in the arena to notice their own defensive breakdowns.

For instance, in yesterday’s loss against the Chicago Bulls, Joakim Noah conducted a basketball clinic on backdoor passing. For all the talent Noah possesses, none of the Knicks ever realized that the Chicago players wanted to be overplayed so that they could cut hard to the basket for scores courtesy of the Bulls center.

In related news, New York is second to last in defensive efficiency.

Fair or not, this will be a mark on Carmelo Anthony, who just happens to be playing the best basketball of his career during this mess of a season. I have been critical of Anthony previously, but this year from hell is one of the most fascinating developments in recent memory.

All-Stars that are playing at the peak of their powers usually produce wins, but that simply has not been the case in Gotham. Since the All-Star break, the Knicks have only been victorious once in their eight tries despite the fact Melo has been sensational.

During this timeframe, Anthony is averaging 32.5 points, 8 rebounds and 2.8 assists on 47.4 percent shooting from the floor and a sizzling 44.1 percent 3-point shooting. In addition, Anthony has played hard and remained engaged throughout the course of this stretch.

An argument could be made that Anthony has ceased caring about the season, and that he is instead focused on securing the biggest deal possible elsewhere this offseason when he hits free agency. Obviously, there is little proof to suggest this, but it has to be in the back of the minds of fans.

The Knicks are on the verge of becoming the league’s laughingstock… again (remember the Stephon Marbury years?). Last season, some New York fans were convinced the Orange and Blue were going to make it to the NBA Finals, and it resulted in this amazingly comical fan commentary (language not safe for work, but it’s worth a few giggles, especially when we know how their season ended).

This time around, the mood is much more somber in the Big Apple, and it’s certainly warranted. New York is now looking for very little victories (perhaps even moral ones), because of the way this season has gone. The team is losing games and perhaps even its franchise cornerstone in the process.

As bad as Detroit needs a win tonight, New York needs it more. That doesn’t mean they will play like it though based on their recent string of games.

Read about the Knicks

Knickerblogger

Pistons and Rockets tilt

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (23-35) at Houston Rockets (39-19)
  • Date: March 1, 2014
  • Time: 8:00 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Detroit Pistons will be on the road tonight to take on what might be a Houston Rockets team flying under the radar.

The Rockets are currently seeded fifth in the Western Conference standings, and it would appear that not much is expected from them in terms of big picture. On a recent episode of the Dan LeBatard show, Steve Kerr offered the opinion that Houston simply did not have what it takes to win the title this year.

Those aren’t necessarily harsh words given that the list of teams with a legitimate shot at capturing the Larry O’Brien trophy is fairly small. It’s worth noting that the TNT analyst also mentioned he felt Houston could potentially get to the Western Conference finals.

That is still an accomplishment in itself, and it says a lot about the type of team Houston has. Kevin McHale’s group is just about five games out of the top spot in west, and within striking distance of getting home court advantage in the first-two rounds of the playoffs.

The Rockets were defeated in their most recent contest by the Los Angeles Clippers, but still won eight of 10 games in February. Their success last month was due to the stellar play of James Harden and Dwight Howard.

Harden averaged 27.9 points and 5.3 assists per game in February on 47.7 percent field-goal shooting. An argument could be made that Howard has actually been better. He is on pace to play the second-least amount of minutes per game of his career, and yet, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year has been a handful.

Last month, Howard produced 22.8 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game on a sizzling 65.5 percent shooting from the floor. What’s more, he posted a plus-minus rating of plus-16.

As the Pistons can attest, Howard is a terror on the interior. When Detroit hosted Houston in December, the former Orlando Magic player dropped 35 points and 19 rebounds at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Howard was simply unstoppable in the low-post area where he tortured the Pistons’ frontline. Have a look at exhibit A:

He added a few more damaging moves. Have a look:

It’s worth noting that Houston struggled through the early portion of the season to find ways to get the ball to Howard on the move. Whether in the pick-and-roll or through lobs, Rockets players simply could not complete pinpoint passes to the big man, and it resulted in turnovers.

Houston has since improved on this front and is a bit more judicious when attempting to deliver the ball to the center. Thus, the Rockets might play things a little different tonight against Detroit.

Still, in the event their offense gets a bit out of sync, they will have the threat of the post-up to throw at Detroit.

Read about the Rockets

Red 94

Road game in San Antonio

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (23-34) at San Antonio Spurs (40-16)
  • Date: February 26, 2014
  • Time: 8:30 p.m.
  • Television: FS Detroit Plus

What to look for

The San Antonio Spurs are one of the best teams in the league because of their talent coupled with their coaching staff. Gregg Popovich continues to “cheat the system” that is called the 82-game regular season.

The Spurs rest starters throughout the campaign by having them miss games or simply resting during large portions of any given contest. This was on full display when San Antonio and the Detroit Pistons met a few weeks ago.

Tony Parker and Tim Duncan played a combined 43 minutes on their way to a loss. Despite the low-minute count for their top players, the Spurs still produced 100 points on 52.4 percent shooting.

San Antonio continues to be arguably the most diverse offense in the league because they rely on movement more than the average NBA team. The Spurs will go to isolations every now and then, but that is mostly by design.

For the most part, every look they obtain is the product of screens, floor spacing, drive and kicks and pick-and-rolls. And even when those “fail”, they will go to post-ups for easy scores or to attract double teams.

The Spurs are fascinating from this standpoint because they can seemingly plug just about any player in their system and score at a high clip. The secret to their formula is so simple that it sounds silly to be honest: Players get open shots from spots where they are proficient at making them.

Even though Popovich’s star players have missed a few games here and there, the Spurs still boast a top-10 offense because of their motion offense. Tonight’s contest might be a tad different in comparison to the last head-to-head matchup between the teams.

San Antonio hasn’t played since last Friday and as a result, the coaching staff might be inclined to ride their starters a little more tonight, especially at home. Detroit will have to play at a high level tonight to ensure they have a chance to steal the game late.

Read about the Spurs

48 Minutes of Hell

Warriors come to town

Essentials

  • Teams: Golden State Warriors (34-22) at Detroit Pistons (23-33)
  • Date: February 24, 2014
  • Time: 7: 30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

Over at Warriors World, Vytis Lasaitis wrote a strong preview outlining what to expect from this contest. Give it a look here.

Read about the Warriors

Warriors World

Pistons host Mavericks

Essentials

  • Teams: Dallas Mavericks (33-23) at Detroit Pistons (23-32)
  • Date: February 22, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

Fresh off a home victory against the Atlanta Hawks, the Detroit Pistons will host the Dallas Mavericks tonight.

Oddly enough, the Pistons are trying to emulate the Mavericks, but have not yet found their exact recipe. Dallas made a few acquisitions in the past offseason to retool and compete for a postseason spot.

The Pistons borrowed the same idea, but their execution was a bit different. Indeed, general manager Joe Dumars signed Josh Smith to a big four-year contract (worth $13.5 million annually) and landed Brandon Jennings with a three-season deal.

Dallas went the same route but offered less money. Mavs management secured Monta Ellis to a three-year deal while Jose Calderon signed for four years per Sham Sports.

The one big difference between the franchises: The Mavericks have a superstar, while the Pistons do not. Dallas brought guys in to play alongside an aging and yet still effective Dirk Nowitzki that seems to have barely lost a step.

Nowitzki is averaging 24.3 points per 36 minutes, and is enjoying the second-best shooting season of his career. The German is converting 49.5 percent of his field goals, 41.7 percent of his treys and a league-leading 91.3 percent from the charity stripe.

Nowitzki’s proficiency form the field allows the Dallas coaching staff to put shooters and ball-handlers around him, and pick teams apart. The Mavericks have the fourth-best offense in the league precisely because they shoot the ball extremely well.

It will be interesting to see how Detroit handles the combination of interior and perimeter punch the Mavs offer given how porous their defense has been in recent years.

On the flip side, the Pistons are still looking for him. The guy that was supposed to put Detroit over the top and turn them into playoff contenders has not yet arrived.

At first, it could have been Greg Monroe. But between trade talks and ongoing discussions debating whether or not he is a max-contract player, conventional wisdom suggests he’s not that guy.

Then, there is Andre Drummond. He is clearly the franchise cornerstone, but Drummond is far too young and raw at this point in his career to carry the team on his back. That leaves newcomers Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings.

Both have flashed potential and production on numerous occasions, and yet, their previous teams barely seemed phased by their departures. Put it all together, and we have a team whose best players range from average to good.

Some nights they are great, but most of the time they sit on the fence separating the land of decent and aight. To be fair, a unit comprised of such players can be successful (most recent example is the 2012-13 Denver Nuggets). But it takes the right system and cast of players to accomplish it all.

Dallas is doing just that, albeit with the help of a Hall of Fame forward. The Pistons must simply find their lane, and perhaps tonight will be a step in that direction.

Read about the Mavs

Mavs Outsider.

Pistons return home to take on Atlanta

Essentials

  • Teams: Atlanta Hawks (25-28) at Detroit Pistons (22-32)
  • Date: February 21st, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Pistons are 0-2 against the Hawks this season (they were supposed to have played three games together by now, but the bad Atlanta weather this winter caused a cancellation), both from very early in the season.

In both games, Hawks budding guard Jeff Teague played very well, making Brandon Jennings look rather foolish on defense. According to Keith Langlois, Teague (and fellow Hawk DeMarre Carroll) is a game-time decision tonight. Teague not playing would be a huge boost for the Pistons, but they shouldn’t bank on it. The Hawks are also missing rookie Pero Antic and star Al Horford to season ending injuries, so they’re just a shell of what they were when the Pistons played them back in the fall.

Also, it seems worth mentioning the Josh Smith narrative. Smith, as you all probably know, spent his first nine NBA seasons with Atlanta. In his highly-anticipated first game against Atlanta, he scored 11 points. In his second game against the Hawks, though, he was held scoreless. Tonight’s play from Smith will probably be marginally influenced by the fact that he’s playing against his former team, although the fact that he’s been a part of the Pistons for over half a season now will probably minimize the effect it has.

The Hawks are currently in a downward spiral, down four rotation players (Pero Antic, Hoford, Teague, DeMarre Carroll) and on a seven game losing streak. They were towards the upper quarter of the Eastern Conference most of the season, but after this abysmal stretch they have dropped down to seventh in the East, only two spots ahead of the ninth place Pistons. The Pistons are 0-2 since the break, being dominated by the Bobcats two straight nights. A win for either team in tonight’s game would break a bad spell and maybe start a turnaround towards prosperity and a playoff berth. With only 28 games left to go, each game remaining is pivotal.

Read about the Hawks

HawksHoop

 

Pistons hit the road for Charlotte

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (22-31) at Charlotte Bobcats (24-30)
  • Date: February 19, 2014
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Detroit Pistons simply have no answer for Al Jefferson. Indeed, Jefferson has tortured them this season to the tune of 28 points, 13 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game so far this season.

The big man has essentially carried the Charlotte Bobcats to a pair of double-digit victories at the expense of the Pistons, and it’s difficult to envision Detroit bouncing back tonight.

Still, that’s exactly what they must do as a unit given that Charlotte has a firm hold on the final playoff in the Eastern Conference standings. As outlined yesterday, the Bobcats’ schedule is slightly more favorable than Detroit the rest of the way, which means the Pistons need a win in the worst way tonight.

Read about the Bobcats

Queen City Hoops.

Race for 8: Pistons host Bobcats

Essentials

  • Teams: Charlotte Bobcats (23-30) at Detroit Pistons (22-30)
  • Date: February 18, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Detroit Pistons will host the Charlotte Bobcats tonight in a matchup of playoff hopefuls. The Bobcats are clinging to the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings, but the Pistons are right on their heels.

Both units play tonight and tomorrow in a home-and-home set that will either make the playoff race more compelling or pretty much boring. In the event Charlotte wins both contests, it will create some separation between the teams that might hold up for the remainder of the season.

Sounds preposterous right?

And yet, it’s fairly accurate. Charlotte and Detroit have played two of the easiest schedules in the league (based on opponent winning percentage) through the first half of 2013-14, but the rest of the campaign is slightly tougher.

Both teams will face stiffer competition, and the Bobcats hold the edge in remaining home games. 15 of Charlotte’s final 29 games will be played in the state of North Carolina, whereas Detroit will play 13 of their final 30 contests at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

It gets a bit worse.

The Pistons have a four-game western road trip with stops at the houses of the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. On the flip side, The Bobcats’ biggest road trip the rest of the way has them playing at the Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics.

Yikes!

Oh and by the way, Charlotte currently holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with Detroit by virtue of a December 20 victory at the Palace. After trailing through much of that contest, the Bobs turned to Al Jefferson in the fourth quarter, and he morphed into Hakeem Olajuwon.

Jefferson went to the low block and terrorized Detroit’s interior defenders. He dropped 15 fourth-quarter points on 7-of-11 shooting. It’s a little weird to call a set of February games important, but make no mistake, that’s exactly the case.

In the event Detroit can sweep this home-and-home set, the Pistons obtain the tiebreaker at the expense of the Bobcats and place themselves in a relatively decent position to make the playoffs.

Read about the Bobcats

Queen City Hoops.