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Category → Game Preview

John Loyer won’t make big changes until after Pistons face Cavaliers

Essentials

  • Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers (19-33) at Detroit Pistons (22-29)
  • Date: February 12, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Detroit

What to look for

Apparently, firing someone does wonders.

The Pistons (who just replaced coach Maurice Cheeks with John Loyer) and Cavaliers (who just replaced general manager Chris Grant with David Griffin) are the Eastern Conference’s hottest teams, both riding three-game winning streaks. No team outside Houston has a long winning streak – though the lowly Magic are also at three games.

So, obviously a modest three-game winning streak means only so much. (Though don’t tell that to these teams.)

Like the Pistons, the Cavaliers are still fighting for a playoff spot with no indications they’ll be sellers at the trade deadline. In fact, Griffin said they’ll be buyers.

They’ve already gotten a boost lately from No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, who even had 19 points on 3-on-3 3-point shooting with 10 rebounds yesterday. So, don’t be alarmed if the player already labeled by some as history’s biggest bust has some success and the Pistons. It wouldn’t necessarily be an indictment of Detroit.

As for the Pistons, expect a repeat of Loyer’s debut victory of the Spurs: minor offensive tweaks and standard operating procedure on defense. Loyer, via David Mayo of MLive:

“I kind of took this as a two-game increment, do the best we can do for these two games, get our guys focused, make a few changes, and then kind of start fresh again,” Loyer said Tuesday. “Whether then we go on a five-game increment, I haven’t really thought much about it. There’s a broader picture of things that we’ve got to cover and go over and add to the package. But most of that is going to be done after the break and we’ll spend time on the break working on that.”

The Pistons have a crucial challenge after the All-Star break, a back-to-back with the Bobcats. That will go a long way toward determining their postseason fate, and I look forward to seeing how Loyer approaches it.

For now, hopefully Detroit can win its eighth straight over Cleveland – which would match a record by either team in the all-time series – and keep a fellow playoff challenger at bay.

Read about the Cavaliers

Cavs: the Blog

Spurs at Pistons: Contrast in franchises

Essentials

  • Teams: San Antonio Spurs (37-14) at Detroit Pistons (21-29)
  • Date: February 10, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons are heading in vastly different directions this season, and one could say this was to be expected. Both respective franchises have operated in contrasting ways over the last few years, and well, only one team has benefitted from it all: the Spurs.

Gregg Popovich has been the head coach of San Antonio since the 1996-97 season, whereas the Pistons will unveil their 11th coach in the same timeframe tonight. What’s more, the Spurs defeated the Pistons in the 2005 NBA Finals and have kept the same core of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

San Antonio opted to keep their aging roster and simply tweak around it to ensure they remained competitive. Since meeting Detroit in the finals, Duncan and Co. have captured another title, lost in the title round and been to two conference finals.

On the flip side, Detroit was bounced from three consecutive conference finals and then blew up the roster. They managed a postseason berth in 2008-09 thanks to Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace, but LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers swept them out of the first round.

The Pistons have not been back to the postseason since. Detroit was supposed to bounce back in 2013-14 with its new and improved roster featuring the newly acquired Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, but things have not gone exactly as planned.

The Pistons are one game out of the eighth spot, but they hardly look like a team with an opportunity to win a playoff game or even provide any type of competition in the postseason should they make it.

San Antonio on the other hand has been a model of consistency since these teams met in the finals, and figure to continue being the envy of almost every other franchise for another year or two.

Consider this little nugget: The Spurs practically have as many road wins (19) as the Pistons’ total amount of victories (21) this year. The Pistons franchise is heading on a different path…again.

They fired Maurice Cheeks, and now must wait to see what the results will be with another headman steering the ship. Fair or not, it would appear as though Detroit is simply hitting the reset button, and that the same decisions will get made over and over again by the front office.

Interestingly enough, San Antonio evolved in concert with the league’s changes while Detroit did… we are not quite sure. In a nutshell, those are your two basketball clubs that will face off tonight.

Read about the Spurs

48 Minutes of Hell.

Pistons host the Nuggets

Essentials

  • Teams: Denver Nuggets (24-24) at Detroit Pistons (20-29)
  • Date: February 8, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD, NBATV

What to look for

The Denver Nuggets have dual identities, which makes them a little odd. They started out the season by playing at a fast pace, but they adjusted by slowing things down in December. They played at a speed in the league’s bottom third, and the team suffered an eight-game losing streak.

The Nuggets have historically always been among the league leaders in pace because they usually run teams out of the building in the high altitudes of Denver. However, Brian Shaw opted to slow things down for the sake of teaching his team how to execute in the half court.

The experiment was viewed as somewhat of a failure, but few accounted for the strength of schedule during that stretch prior to Christmas. With the exception of the New Orleans Pelicans, every opponent Denver faced during the losing streak is in the mix for a postseason berth.

Nonetheless, in the face of adversity, Denver reverted back to what it knows best: flying up and down the court. They have progressively increased their pace in each month since December, and their offensive efficiency has picked up as well.

What’s more, the Nuggets have the horses necessary to get up and down the floor. Shaw uses players that are all roughly the same size. Their wing and interior guys can defend multiple positions and consistently beat people down the court.

The Nuggets tend to overwhelm teams that are not prepared for their style of play, especially in the confines of Colorado. Away from home though, that advantage is somewhat nullified.

The Nuggets’ pace takes a slight dip on the road because opponents are not gasping for air in the same manner as they typically do in Denver. Teams are no longer forced to matchup with Ty Lawson and Co. because their big people will not get exposed out in transition.

In turn, units with big frontlines will get their fair share of rebounds at home when playing against Denver. According to NBA.com, the Nuggets see a decrease in their rebounding percentage in road games when compared to home.

That gives the Detroit Pistons an intriguing edge tonight, given that Andre Drummond’s bunch does a fantastic job of attacking the boards for second-chance points.

The tandem of Kenneth Faried and J.J. Hickson simply does not have the size to deal with the Pistons’ frontline. The one wildcard for Denver: 3-point shooting.

If they can loosen up the Detroit defense with a few long-distance shots, it will give them an opportunity to attack the interior in the half court. Otherwise, it’s far more prudent to bet on Detroit because their failures in execution will be mitigated by their offensive rebounds.

Read about the Nuggets

Roundball Mining Company.

Pistons host the Nets

Essentials

  • Teams: Brooklyn Nets (22-25) at Detroit Pistons (19-29)
  • Date: February 7, 2014
  •  Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Detroit Pistons have a fairly difficult month ahead of them, and well, they have not started things out well. Detroit has a series of tough games this month, which makes it incredibly important for Maurice Cheeks’ guys to remain competitive against teams that are in their tier.

Their most recent defeat at the hands of the Orlando Magic might signal that the Pistons are not ready to tackle February. The Magic blew them out and now the Pistons will have to try to rebound this evening against a Brooklyn Nets team that defeated the San Antonio Spurs last night.

The Nets are perhaps the best bad team in the Eastern Conference.  They have had a few five-game winning streaks as well as some smaller ones. Brooklyn has beaten some decent teams and also managed to beat the subpar squads on their schedule.

The Nets have collected back-to-back victories heading into the contest with the Pistons thanks in large part to their guards. One might be tempted to think the big contributor here is Deron Williams, but that would be inaccurate.

The guy leading the Brooklyn charge is Shaun Livingston. His all-around play has helped the Nets look relatively competent. Livingston has the length to play both guard spots and can even manage at the small forward position. Thus, he fits well alongside Williams and Joe Johnson despite his lack of shooting range.

He is a solid ball-handler and finds ways to incorporate himself next to his teammates. He remains in movement, which gives his comrades room to operate. It will be interesting to see whether Detroit matches up well in the backcourt against Brooklyn.

With respect to the frontcourt, that will be the Pistons’ advantage, and the Nets might struggle with it. Detroit’s interior players will likely attempt to bully the opposition on the boards for second-chance opportunities.

Pay close attention to the Nets’ reserves tonight specifically because of this. If Reggie Evans gets into the game, his size and hustle might prove to be the equalizer against a bruising Detroit frontline.

Read about the Nets

Brooklyn’s Finest.

Pistons in Orlando

Essentials

  • Teams:  Detroit Pistons (19-28) at Orlando Magic (13-37)
  • Date: February 5, 2014
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Detroit Pistons will be looking to bounce back from a loss at the hands of the defending champs. Indeed, Detroit was defeated by the Miami Heat, in a close contest that the tandem of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade pulled out.

The loss allowed the Charlotte Bobcats to gain a bit of breathing room in the standings. The Bobcats own the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference at the moment, but they have the same amount of losses as the Pistons.

However, they have three more wins. Charlotte will have an opportunity to widen that gap this month because the Pistons have a series of games against some stiff competition.

Here are some of the noteworthy contests in February:

  • February 8: Denver Nuggets
  • February 10: San Antonio Spurs
  • February 21: Atlanta Hawks
  • February 22: Dallas Mavericks
  • February 24: Golden State Warriors
  • February 26: at San Antonio Spurs

There is a silver lining though: All of these contests, save for the one versus the Spurs, will be played at home. Also, February might have its fair share of tough games, but the rest of the month shakes out with head-to-game battles with the Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers and the Bobcats (twice).

Consequently, Detroit might be able to stay afloat provided that they at least handle the weakest teams on their schedules. Granted, some of those units might potentially be better than the Pistons themselves, but these are the cards they were dealt, and they must rise to the occasion.

The fact they play Charlotte twice certainly bodes well for them if they can defeat them. That will narrow the gap and make it more likely they catch the Bobs.

Before they can start looking at the remainder of this month though, they need to concentrate on the worst team they will face during this period of the time: the Orlando Magic.

The Pistons play in Orlando tonight, and they will have to bring their best effort considering that they last time they made this trip, they were routed. A victory at Disney helps right the ship on some level and stirs it out of the storm.

Read about the Magic

Magic Basketball.

Battle with the champs

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (19-27) at Miami Heat (33-13)
  • Date: February 3, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

Fresh off a blowout home victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, the Detroit Pistons will start off a small Florida trip with a game at the house of the Miami Heat.

After being humbled at home by the Oklahoma City Thunder, the defending champions rebounded with a victory over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

The contest itself might be a mere regular-season footnote, but the win was a sign of a change in focus from Miami. They have looked disinterested with the season for the most part, and have essentially been going through the motions.

However, the contest against the Knicks seemed to indicate something different: the Heat will coast no more. The back-to-back champs went into NY with great defensive energy and challenged shooters.

LeBron James, who has been accused of taking the biggest backseat of all the Heat members, was active when defending the likes of J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony. He came in with focus and was all over the floor as evidenced by his 30 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and six steals.

It would appear as though James has finally flipped the proverbial switch. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com provided more in-depth insight after the game:

Over the past 10 games, James has indeed been heading up the ramp. The easiest explanation of it is that midseason has arrived and his normal rhythms tend to have him turn it on at this time. It’s possible some of it was motivation the mini-wave of negative publicity his little slump, by his standards, created. And, of course, there was Durant. James has been watching Durant’s performance like a dedicated Oklahoma City Thunder fan, and it no doubt tapped his competitive streak.

With James ramping up his play, it stands to reason that his teammates will follow his lead. The champs might very well play at a higher level in the second half of the season, and that should help the Pistons figure out just where it is that they stand in the Eastern Conference.

Detroit was victorious in Miami last December largely in part to a subpar defensive game by the home team. The Pistons converted 51.3 percent of their shots and 43.8 percent of their treys.

The Heat were consistently late on rotations, and the Pistons were more than happy to take advantage of it by scoring 60 points in the paint.

In their most recent contest at New York, Miami limited the Knicks to 30 points in the paint and dared them to hit contested shots from long range. The Pistons come with a different identity, one that relentlessly attacks the painted area for high-percentage field-goal attempts.

It will certainly be interesting to see if the Pistons are allowed to play to their strengths (second-chance points and interior scoring) against a team that has won in the past with suffocating defense.

Read about the Heat

Heat Index.

Philly’s own or Philly’s owned?

Essentials

  • Teams: Philadelphia 76ers (15-32) at Detroit Pistons (18-27)
  • Date: February 1, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Detroit Pistons are currently on the outside of the playoff picture, trailing the New York Knicks. They are only three games out of the eighth spot and luckily for them, the Philadelphia 76ers are coming into the Palace of Auburn Hills tonight.

In the previous two contests, Detroit has vanquished Philadelphia by double digits. The Pistons are averaging 114.5 points per game on 44.3 percent shooting versus Philly this season.

The success of Maurice Cheeks’ group against the Sixers has been predicated on the strength of their offensive rebounding. Indeed, Detroit has snatched 41 offensive rebounds, which has helped them average a staggering 51 points in the paint in the first two meetings.

The star of the matchups has undoubtedly been Andre Drummond. He has bullied Philly to the tune of 21 points, 15.5 rebounds, four blocks and three steals per game on 63 percent field-goal shooting.

On the flip side, Thaddeus Young has been the best offensive player for the 76ers against Detroit this year. He’s produced 23 points per game on 50 percent shooting, which has kept Phill relatively close.

In the same breath, Young’s poor job on the boards is one of the reasons that Detroit has dominated his team on the glass. Thus, if he continues to average less than five rebounds per game in this series, the Pistons will likely maintain their edge as the top team in this head-to-head battle.

The Pistons have dominated the paint and the charity stripe because of their interior play against Philadelphia this season, and truthfully, there’s no reason to expect anything different tonight.

Read about the 76ers

Hoop 76.

Pistons host Magic

Essentials

  • Teams: Orlando Magic (12-33) at Detroit Pistons (17-27)
  • Date: January 28, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD+

What to look for

The Detroit Pistons are hoping to rebound from their four-game skid with a win tonight against the Orlando Magic.  Greg Monroe and company have seen three victories in the past 10 games and what’s more, the team is in danger of losing ground in the playoff race.

That makes tonight’s contest against the Magic a fairly important one. Detroit needs a win in the worst way, and Orlando owns the second-worst record in the sport. Don’t let that fool into you into thinking the contest is a layup though.

The Magic are fairly young and figuring things out, but they still have some talent. This was on full display December 27 when they hosted the Pistons and blew them out.

The Magic essentially obtained whatever shot they wanted against a porous Detroit interior defense that yielded 58 points in the paint. In addition, Arron Afflalo pretty much looked like Kobe Bryant in that game by virtue of the way he attacked the Detroit guards with his low-post game.

He tortured them with jumpers on his way to 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Orlando scored 109 points on 52.9 percent field-goal shooting.

On the other side of things, the Pistons were downright awful. They shot 41.1 percent from the field and only hit 9-of-18 free throws. Josh Smith was particularly dreadful as evidenced by his 2-for-13 shooting line.

The offensive numbers were simply ugly from Detroit’s standpoint. Luckily, one struggles to believe that very same performance will reproduce itself. The frontline missed an unusually large amount of shots at the rim, which suggests their scoring output will more than likely be better.

On another note, Tobias Haris and Nic Vucevic might not be household names, but they will certainly give Smith and Andre Drummond everything they can handle. They come with loads of potential and more importantly, actual production.

Expect a back-and-forth game where the outcome is decided late in the fourth quarter unlike the previous matchup.

Read about the Magic

Magic Basketball.

Road game in Dallas

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (17-26) at Dallas Mavericks (25-20)
  • Date: January 26, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

Expectations ultimately end up dictating what we consider successful. The Dallas Mavericks came into this season expecting to be somewhere between good and great, and they are right on track.

After missing the playoffs last season, the Mavs project to make the postseason this year. The additions of Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis have given Dallas some scoring and playmaking punch.

And yet, the offense feels a bit underwhelming. Rick Carlisle’s group is fairly old and as a result, the Mavs are a half-court team. They run most of their sets through Dirk Nowitzki, and space the floor with a combination of shooters and ball-handlers.

It allows the Mavericks to consistently get Nowitzki some looks from the top of the floor and in the low post. When defenses decide to converge on the German, he is a willing passer that will set up the play that leads to the score (the hockey assist).

The way the offense is designed, one would be tempted to think it’s borderline unstoppable. Indeed, when one-on-one players are afforded with single coverage, it typically gives them an advantage where scoring is concerned.

Think of the Portland Trail Blazers for instance, LaMarcus Aldridge does wonders for that team because his comrades get the opportunity to go at one defender.

The Mavericks have no such luck. They are mostly a matchup-oriented team. Thus, they will thrive against teams with multiple poor defenders or bad discipline. However, against stout defensive units, the recipe produces incredibly mixed results.

Dallas is an average paint scoring team per Team Rankings, which means they rely on a lot of jump shots to get their offense going. Great teams are fine with giving up those types of field goals, but they also do a pretty stellar job of contesting them.

Hence, the Mavs can potentially have issues there. To be fair, that will not be the case tonight against the Detroit Pistons.

Detroit has struggled with rotations and pick-and-roll coverage all season. Dallas is going to force them to defend those sets all night. If the Pistons are not up to the task, the Mavericks are going to get a multitude of open looks.

Therefore, the Mavs may very well end up looking unstoppable tonight. In no way, shape or form does this mean that Detroit is doomed though.

Dallas is not a great defensive squad by any stretch of the imagination. What’s more, they love going to the zone every now and then. The Pistons do not have great long-distance shooters, but they are an excellent offensive rebounding team. Zone defenses make it difficult to find players to block out on the boards, and Detroit will likely profit from that.

Read about the Mavericks

Mavs Outsider Report.

About that Milwaukee trip…

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons at Milwaukee Bucks
  • Date: January 22, 2014
  • Time: 8:00 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Milwaukee Bucks came into the season expecting to compete for a playoff spot. They made a few moves in the offseason that led them to believe they would field a competitive roster and give Eastern Conference teams some trouble.

Talk about completely misjudging your talent and situation.

Milwaukee collected spare parts from teams that were either fringe playoff contenders or NBA doormats, and simply assumed those pieces would help them earn a postseason berth.

In doing so, they failed to account for obvious issues that could potentially arise with the roster they constructed. Indeed, acquiring a few rotation guys from different teams with varying degrees of success is hardly an ideal recipe to follow when constructing a playoff team if the players are not great fits.

In fact, it can look real ugly when that thought process becomes reality. The Bucks are living proof. They brought in Brandon Knight to play point guard despite the fact that he is less than stellar at running a team.

He is an inefficient scorer and has a tendency to see plays develop a bit late, which kind of matters at that position. On a team with other creators that anticipate defensive looks, this would be a mere blip on the radar, but in Milwaukee, it’s tragic.

Knight is surrounded by players are that singularly minded on getting shots up, which makes for an interesting dynamic. It’s like watching a team full of J.R. Smith prototypes; it might be entertaining in a train wreck sort of way, but hardly a winning formula.

Caron Butler has always favored isolation plays from midrange because it allows him to get his shot off against defenders given his size.

On a good team, he is likely facing the second or maybe third-best perimeter defender of the opposition. In Milwaukee though, teams are devising actual schemes to stop him and well, the result is a 35.9 percent field goal percentage for the season.

O.J. Mayo has gone through a bit of the same transition as Butler in 2013-14. Last season, Rick Carlisle put him in situations that fit his skill set. Mayo played the role of scorer, spot-up shooter and playmaker on a team of high-intellect players, and that helped him sign a three-year $24 million deal with Milwaukee.

Also, he played next to Dirk Nowitzki, which will help just about everyone look better. On the Bucks though, he has not been able to replicate that success because of the team’s construct.

Place a bunch of low-percentage scorers together and they are bound to collectively struggle. Not so coincidentally, they own the worst offensive efficiency in the league.

That is hardly the lone thing limiting Knight and company this season. There is far too much indecisiveness on the team and also, the Bucks seem to be imploding. They have the worst record in the Association and the team’s lack of identity has become an issue according to Mayo who shared his thoughts with Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel:

It’s hard to get a rhythm when you don’t know what’s going to happen for you night in and night out. You may get 6 minutes, 30 minutes. There’s no staple to what we’re doing. You can hang in there, compete and keep it close.

If you don’t have a backbone to what you do, whether it’s going to be a defensive thing, an up-tempo thing, a pound-it-in-the-paint thing, a drive-and-kick thing. We’ve got to find a staple as a team.

If you thought things were bad from the players’ standpoint in terms of identifying what type of team they are, the sentiment is actually shared by the coaching staff. Larry Drew had this to say to Bucksketball’s Jeremy Schmidt:

When you bring in 11 new faces and you’re trying to learn them and they’re trying to learn you and you’re trying to find out what works, just trying to find chemistry. What you have. And then you mix in dealing with the injuries and having to shuffle things around, it’s not an easy situation. But I knew that coming into it, as far as all the changes that would be made and all the faces. Not knowing exactly what I had and what would work and what wouldn’t work, but I stay committed. I stay committed to trying to find solutions with what we do have. And as we move further down the line we’ll see what direction we’re going to go.

The Bucks might be the opponents for the Detroit Pistons tonight, but if anything, it sounds as though they have to figure themselves out first. Until they actually do so, it stands to reason Milwaukee will not be involved in any compelling matchup.

Read about the Bucks

Bucksketball.