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Category → Game Preview

Pistons host Lob City


  • Teams: Los Angeles Clippers (28-14) at Detroit Pistons (17-23)
  • Date: January 20, 2014
  • Time: 1:00 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Los Angeles Clippers might just be the most underrated and overrated team in the league at the same time. Indeed, once Doc Rivers relocated to the City of Angels, it was expected that he would transform the team into a juggernaut worthy of the top spot in the West.

Instead, the Clips started out the season by losing to the Los Angeles Lakers on opening night. Furthermore, at this time last season, Blake Griffin and company had just completed an improbable 17-game winning streak with Vinny Del Negro at the helm.

Hence, it’s difficult to say the team got better when it would appear as though they are essentially in the same spot as last season sans the consecutive victories.

Ah but things are in fact not quite as similar. Lob City barely looked competent in 2012-13 without Chris Paul. Indeed, they played like a team with no organization or leadership, which led to nights where the opposition took them to school.

This time around, Los Angeles is a better team. To be fair, the upgraded roster certainly helps.

The Clippers added some shooters that also masquerade as competent perimeter defenders. Consequently, Rivers’ group has more spacing on the floor and can run the offense through Griffin.

The big man can play in the high and low post, where he does damage with jumper, ball-handling and passing. What’s more, he is just as deadly in the pick-and-roll because he is a great finisher at the rim.

There has been a slow evolution to his game whereby the Clippers are no longer lost without Paul. The Clippers outscore opponents by 6.9 points per 100 possessions with Griffin on the court, which is the equivalent of the Houston Rockets.

In other words, Griffin alone helps L.A. boast one of the top records in the conference. The highflyer is not alone though. This is where Rivers’ impact has been felt the most.

The team is statistically in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Those numbers can at times be misleading, but they seem to be just about on point with the Clippers.

The team has demonstrated a good discipline on defense and a belief in trusting each other on offense. The former Boston Celtics’ coach has implemented his system and is reaping the benefits despite the absence of its best player.

As the Detroit Pistons host the Clips today, the thing to pay attention to is not the highlights, but rather the team play. They might break out a few isolations and highlights every now and then, but make no mistake, this is no longer a one-man show.

Read about the Clippers


Josh Smith the key tonight and for remainder of season?


  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (16-23) at Washington Wizards (19-19)
  • Date: January 18, 2014
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: FSD Plus

What to look for

Josh Smith will determine the short-term future of the Detroit Pistons. This is not to suggest that the former Atlanta Hawk is the best player on the team (could argue he is though) but rather that the way he gets used will determine what kind of team the Pistons will become.

At present time, Detroit is bad. Part of that stems from the fact that Smith has been taken completely outside of his comfort zone. To be fair, the team is not sub-.500 solely because Smith has been inconsistent.

Rather, the way he has been used has resulted in some of his shortcomings and consequently, one can understand that the inability to properly utilize him has trickled down to the remainder of the roster.

The most glaring issue with Smith is his position. The southpaw started out his career as a small forward but transitioned to power forward where he flourished. Smith is a bit like Shawn Marion in his prime with the Phoenix Suns: He is simply too quick and explosive for most big forwards and it allows him beat them off the dribble and in the low post.

In his final three seasons in Atlanta, Smith played 77 percent of his minutes at the four and posted a PER of 19.3 from 2010-11 to 2012-13 according to Basketball-Reference.

However, his advantages are nullified at the small forward position, especially on a team that lacks spacing and great ball movement. Indeed, Smith is playing 53.4 percent of his minutes this season alongside Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond per NBA.com. In related news, his PER has never been lower.

In a scheme that highlighted the highflyer’s skills, his position would not necessarily matter. However, the Pistons have simply not built a roster that is tailored to his strengths or those of his teammates for that matter.

Indeed, Smith is a good high-low passer and operates well in the pick-and-roll both as a finisher and creator. He is at his best in this setting when there is some type of movement or screen action on the weak side of the floor that is occurring simultaneously.

This typically allows the lefty to throw passes on the move to a big man that can finish directly at the basket without much difficulty. In the event Smith is the one rolling to the hoop, he gets a chance to score over a defender that is late rotating.

Mind you, that has not been exactly the case in Detroit. Have a look below:

That video illustrates why it is that Smith is only converting 28.3 percent (!) of his shots as the roll man in the pick-and-roll according to Synergy Sports. There is simply a clear lack of sophistication in the offense and in turn, the players are suffering from it.

It’s worth noting, the presence of veteran players also helps whenever the offense stagnates. There are guys that just have a great knack for spreading the floor and finding ways to bend defenses. Think of Danny Green with the San Antonio Spurs, Shane Battier of the Miami Heat and Wesley Matthews of the Portland Trail Blazers to name a few.

Watch the video below of Matthews nailing a 3-pointer:

Once the ball swings to LaMarcus Aldridge, Matthews realizes that his man has to rotate to LMA. As a result, he quickly fades to the corner to create a huge amount of distance between he and Richard Jefferson. From there, it’s just a matter of Aldridge feeding him the ball for the open trey.

The Pistons have not yet developed that level of chemistry because the mix itself is relatively new. Nonetheless, Detroit must accentuate its strengths by running sets that actually benefit their players.

The Washington Wizards are not a great team by any stretch of the imagination, however they have taken their lumps and slowly begun doing things that puts players in a position to succeed.

It’s part of the reason that Washington has collected wins in two of the three matchups with the Pistons.

Rome was not built in one day, but it’s safe to say that after a little over two months, one had an idea of the ground the city would cover. As it pertains to Detroit, we are still not sure.

Read about the Wizards

Truth About It.

Motown welcomes Jazz…


  • Teams: Utah Jazz (13-27) at Detroit Pistons (16-22)
  • Date: January 7, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Detroit Pistons must take the Utah Jazz seriously, otherwise they might be in for a rude awakening.

There is a sentiment going around that Detroit should be better given the pieces on the roster. The Pistons have a combination of veterans and inexperienced players, and that should suffice in getting them over .500 considering the talent at their disposal.

And yet, Detroit’s performance so far this season is essentially on par with a Philadelphia 76ers team that is tanking. Thus, there are no easy ones for Mo Cheeks’ unit.

With respect to tonight’s visitors, one could easily get seduced into thinking they are an awful team because the Jazz own the worst record in the Western Conference and opened up the season with an eight-game losing streak.

Mind you, they are only three wins back of the Pistons (yikes!) in terms of overall record. Utah has split their last 10 games and recorded victories over the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets over the course of that stretch.

Utah has accomplished this by getting some solid production out of their young guns. Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, Gordan Hayward (has been recently sidelined because of a hip injury), Alec Burks and Trey Burke have gotten minutes and done good things with them.

The Jazz might lack experience, but they certainly make up for it at times with their youthful exuberance. They are a squad with emerging talent at key positions (guard and on the interior), which tends to cause issues for their opponents.

Indeed, the Pistons know this better than most given the troubles that they cause against the opposition with the likes of Andre Drummond. There’s an old adage in the NBA that still holds true today: you cannot teach size.

And well, the Jazz have it in Kanter and Favors. Granted, they are not the most consistent pair of big men in the league, but they will have nights where they dominate the glass as well as the paint.

That makes for a fun matchup against the Pistons considering that Detroit essentially follows that recipe. The Favors-versus-Drummond duel is unlikely to produce big headlines, but it should be a good and entertaining battle of young big men with raw talent.

Read about the Jazz

Salt City Hoops.

Pistons host Phoenix Suns


  • Teams: Phoenix Suns (21-14) at Detroit Pistons (15-22)
  • Date: January 11, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Detroit Pistons’ losing streak has ended. With talks surfacing that Josh Smith might be a better fit coming off the bench, the lefty had a game for the ages last night against the Philadelphia 76ers.

As great as Smith’s performance was, it is already a thing of the past. Detroit cannot rest on its laurels because they have a dangerous and exciting Phoenix Suns team coming to town.

Phoenix will be without Eric Bledsoe who is currently sidelined with a knee injury for an indefinite period of time. Nonetheless, the Suns have earned the respect of teams in the league by winning games in the tough Western Conference.

Heading into tonight, Phoenix is the seventh seed in the West and also possesses a scoring differential superior to every Eastern Conference team not named the Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat.

The Suns have been beating teams thanks to a solid offense that emphasizes ball movement. They are somewhat reminiscent of the San Antonio Spurs with the way they share the ball. Granted, they do not have the Spurs’ talent, but they possess part of their discipline.

Jeff Hornacek’s group relies on drive and kicks, pick-and-rolls and a few occasional post-ups to take advantage of defenses. Through it all, the ball rarely remains static. The end result is a team where every player on the floor is a threat.

What’s more, Hornacek uses lineups that complement each other quite well. For instance, Miles Plumlee is always surrounded by a multitude of shooters on the hardwood, which allows him to dive to the basket for catch and scores as well as a few back-to-the basket plays.

More specifically, NBA.com reveals that Plumlee spends roughly 60 percent of his court time alongside Channing Frye. Frye is a stretch big man that strategically drifts out to the perimeter to open the floor for driving lanes and plays on the interior for Plumlee.

According to Synergy Sports, 30.1 percent of Plumlee’s shot attempts stem directly from post-ups. He still has work to do in this setting because he is not great on this front, but he will surprise defenders every now and then with his footwork.

The tandem of Frye and Plumlee allows Goran Dragic to get creative with the ball in his hands. Dragic is a good ball-handler that loves to attack defenders off the bounce. He uses his dribble to create opportunities directly at the rim or set up teammates.

Keep in mind, because Phoenix players rarely remain static, Dragic is surrounded by players that consistently look for the open spot on the floor. Thus, the Suns do a lot of cutting and screening while the ball is in play.

Because so many teams in the league operate with heavy doses of isolations, some teams become accustomed to facing squads with very few offensive wrinkles. The Suns tend to stay away from typical one-on-one situations, and favor instead the involvement of every player.

The Pistons will be forced to defend the entire floor tonight by virtue of Hornacek’s offense. Phoenix will look to spread out the Detroit players and force them to make multiple rotations and close out on shooters. Provided that Brandon Jennings and company can manage this, they will have a chance at stifling the Suns’ offense.

Otherwise, they might be in a shootout if Phoenix is converting long-distance shots.

Read about the Suns

Valley of the Suns.

What does tanking look like?


  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (14-22) at Philadelphia 76ers (12-23)
  • Date: January 10, 2014
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

There’s something to be said about where the Detroit Pistons stand today as a basketball club with the Philadelphia 76ers hosting them tonight.

Joe Dumars made a big splash during the offseason when he signed Josh Smith to a lucrative four-year $54 million deal and traded for the services of Brandon Jennings.

What’s more, the plan was for Smith to abandon the power forward spot — where he has flourished during his time with the Atlanta Hawks — to become Detroit’s starting small forward.

There were some concerns over whether the Pistons’ offense would have enough spacing to properly function with Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe consistently sharing the court together, and they were warranted.

Still, others felt that the passing ability of Smith and Monroe would make up for the lack of long-range shooting and allow the offense to operate fairly smoothly. Also, Detroit’s talent would carry them every now and then through a few rough patches. Well, the experiment has been a failure as the midway point of the regular season approaches.

Talks have begun that Smith should come off the bench in a support role and also, we are being told that Monroe’s name has not crept up in trade talks, but the fact his name keeps resurfacing is certainly a source of concern. The franchise is not in disarray yet, but the Pistons are at the red light contemplating whether to get on the overpass that leads to Disaster Freeway.

On the other hand, tonight’s opponent is heading in the same direction, but driving in a different lane.

The 76ers took another approach in the summer and decided to blow up the roster. They sent Jrue Holiday packing and acquired Nerlens Noel. Fearing for Noel’s health, Philadelphia quickly announced they were likely shutting him down for the season.

For all intents and purposes, Philly made the decision to tank. They are giving out minutes to young players this season and trying to figure out what they have. In the process, they quickly realized they had a gem in Michael Carter-Williams.

It’s possible that Philly now has its backcourt of the future with Evan Turner starting alongside Carter-Williams. Then again, Turner comes at a relatively hefty price tag (carries an $8.7 million qualifying offer amount for 2014-15) and could potentially get traded away for other assets.

Make no mistake about it though, the Philly franchise is currently going through a development stage. And yet, their record is incredibly similar to Detroit’s. What does it say about the Pistons’ postseason chances that they have almost as many losses as a team that has no interest in winning?

Consider this: The Sixers went out west and won consecutive road games against the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers recently.

Meanwhile, the Pistons are stuck in a six-game losing streak. What’s more, they’ve been blown out four times during that stretch. When presented with that info, which team sounds like it’s tanking?

Luckily for Maurice Cheeks, his group defeated Philly earlier in the season by double digits and might have a shot at repeating the feat again tonight. Nonetheless, the Pistons are still at that red light and it’s about to change. The freeway awaits.

Read about the 76ers

Pistons travel up north


  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (14-21) at Toronto Raptors (16-17)
  • Date: January 7, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Toronto Raptors have drastically changed since trading away Rudy Gay. The group has been winning and actually looks like the third-best unit in the Eastern Conference. Indeed, Toronto looks more like a team as opposed to a collection of individuals.

I reached out to Sam Holako of Raptors Republic, the Raptors’ ESPN TrueHoop affiliate blog, and asked him whether this was in fact reality or fool’s gold. His response:

Reality; since the Gay trade, the Raptors have:

  • replaced Gay with Ross in the starting lineup (less usage, more efficient, superior three point shooter)
  • have a very solid bench (added Salmons, Patterson, Vasquez and Hayes) that has has provided depth, shooting, perimeter defense and a backup point guard who doesn’t suck (sorry DJ Augustin, but you sucked)
  • are passing the ball 30 more times a game
  • run more pick-n-rolls and less hero/iso-ball

The last two losses (Miami and Indiana) have been hard-fought games that came down to the fact that both those teams are just better. With their scheduling easing up, expect to see this team win more games than they lose, and potentially take over 3rd in the East by the all-star game.

Holako’s stance on the Raptors confirmed my suspicions and also led me to a place that I felt wasn’t getting enough attention: DeMar DeRozan’s All-Star candidacy. The Raptors Republic scribe graciously shared his opinions on the matter:

No disrespect to Dwayne Wade, but DeMar DeRozan has been more important to Raptors than the other SG who are ahead of him in votes (Dwayne Wade, Ray Allen, Lance Stephenson, and George Hill depending on how you rate him). Since the Gay trade, he’s averaged 21.2 pts 4.9rebs 4.5ast 1.3stl and has led the team to a 10-5 record over the last month (second best in the league).

Thus, Toronto is a team playing well that possesses one of the best 2-guards in the league. One can only wonder what their ceiling is. Holako offered:

This is definitely a playoff team as currently constructed given the state of the East, but I don’t see them winning a round in the playoffs unless they get Chicago AND Joakim Noah doesn’t will them to the 2nd round. I’m much less concerned with them winning a round, then getting playoff experience. This is a very young team, with only Kyle Lowry (19) and Amir Johnson (11) from the core having any playoff experience; note that neither has seen the playoffs since the ’08-’09 season.

Tonight’s tilt with the Raptors will likely say more about the Detroit Pistons than it will about the Raptors. Toronto has changed its identity and found a winning recipe whereas Detroit is still searching for theirs.

The Pistons are struggling at the moment and might need to take a few pointers from the lone Canadian franchise in the Association.

Read about the Raptors

Battle of the Least: Pistons at Knicks


  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (14-20) at New York Knicks (11-22)
  • Date: January 7, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

Is there a team more interesting than the New York Knicks in the NBA? Noticed I said interesting and not entertaining.

James Dolan reportedly stated he believes the Knicks had the pieces needed to win a title and well, the team has gone out of its way to prove him wrong by suffering a nine-game losing streak during the 2013-14 campaign.

Further exacerbating matters, Carmelo Anthony has made it known he intends to shop himself to the highest bidder when the summer hits given his free-agent status. That sounds great, however, Anthony is the best player on a team with a bad record even by Eastern Conference standards.

He will still command a maximum-level contract, but one can only wonder if his prospective departure is affecting the team. Melo recently made by headlines by harshly responding to a fan’s criticism on Twitter and then later issued an apology.

Things off the court make New York compelling, but the issues on the hardwood make them a comedy show of sorts. Indeed, J.R. Smith had a game earlier in the season where he scored 19 points and attempted 17 treys. His play this season has been subpar and many are wondering what’s prompted his struggles.

With that said, the most comedic performance belongs to Andrea Bargnani. The blunders of Mike Woodson’s group highlight just how bad the situation has been in the Big Apple. And yet, I keep hoping for the team to acquire JaVale McGee via trade to boost up the Knicks’ interest value.

The Knicks would immediately become an 82-game Shaqtin’ a Fool experiment. And yet, for all of New York’s shortcomings, the team has some talent to work with. Anthony is enjoying the second-best statistical season of his career and leading the league in minutes per game.

Iman Shumpert is a menacing 2-guard with what occasionally resembles elite defensive instincts, especially with Chandler protecting him. The players do not always complement each other, but on the nights they do, Dolan’s team looks somewhat formidable as evidenced by their road wins against the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks on the Texas trip they just completed.

Still, the evidence suggests that New York is simply far too inefficient in its makeup to truly be taken seriously unless their identity drastically changes. Indeed, the Knicks have one of the worst offenses in the league because they take some of the worst shots in the sport.

They are a bottom-third unit in terms of shot attempts per game at the rim as well as corner 3-pointers attempted on average. Teams that hunt these shots typically produce good if not great offenses because they are the money shots in basketball.

New York simply has too many players enamored with dribbling the ball and then firing up contested jumpers from mid-range or from above the break. Per NBA.com, the Knicks rank in the league’s top-five teams in mid-range shots taken per contest.

The man that encourages this behavior is none other than Anthony, who embraces the isolation game. The former Denver Nugget has a penchant for going to the mid-range area and looking to take his defender off the bounce. When that fails, he gladly settles for the long 2-point shot off the bounce.

SportVU tracking data tells us that Melo is among the league’s top 10 most active pull jump shooters (any jump shot outside of 10 feet where a player took one or more dribbles before shooting). Thus, the Knicks’ offense will go through ups and downs depending on the group’s ability to convert low-percentage attempts.

That in turn probably makes the Detroit Pistons the better team tonight despite the fact that some sports books actually list NYC as the favorites. The Pistons will spend the majority of the contest attacking the interior through drives, post-ups and offensive rebounds, which will yield a relatively efficient scoring output.

The Knicks on the other hand will put all of their eggs in the mid-range basket and hope to come away with a victory. That formula has worked roughly a third of the time for the Knickerbockers, which suggests the odds actually line up with the road team tonight.

Read about the Knicks

Pistons host Grizzlies


  • Teams: Memphis Grizzlies (14-18) at Detroit Pistons (14-19)
  • Date: January 4, 2014
  • Time: 1:00 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Detroit Pistons are reeling. They have lost three consecutive games and also, they have been blown out in two of those contests. The juggernauts (more like juggernots) responsible for giving the Pistons two beat downs were the Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards.

Maurice Cheeks and company have had quite some time to contemplate these losses given that a schedule quirk allowed the Pistons to remain idle since December 30.

The players might benefit from some fresh legs, but then again Pistons players may also be somewhat rusty with the layoff. Their opponents today have been playing games at a regular rate and thus, it’s quite possible that their timing will be a tad superior.

The Memphis Grizzlies have alternated between wins and losses in their last five game, but they are a dangerous team no less. Detroit might not have found its footing as of yet, but they did take a step in the right direction by borrowing Memphis’ roster blueprint.

The Pistons are built in a manner that is practically identical to the Griz except for the talent disparity in the frontcourt. When Zach Randolph is one his game, he is the best player out of the two units.

He combines toughness with smarts and solid touch to drive opponents crazy with his below-the-rim game. It’s like that famous Kenny Smith saying: “some guys can jump over the building while some guys can simply go through the door”.

Randolph relies on mid-range jumpers, offensive rebounds and shots around the basket that stem from post-ups. Very few players can limit his production and well, it’s probably fair to say that no one on the Detroit frontline is equipped for such a task.

Keep in mind, the Pistons are average at best when it comes to defending the paint, and that’s where Z-Bo earns his paycheck. Interestingly enough, Randolph will have his hands full tonight because he will be called upon to defend players that also make their living in the painted area.

Per NBA.com, the majority of the shots taken by Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond have been within the restricted area so far this season. That’s an important factor given that the Memphis big man will occasionally commit fouls on the interior.

Hence, if he is asked to defend pick-and-rolls, wall off the paint and serve as a semblance of a rim protector today against Detroit, he will likely get himself into foul trouble.

The Grizzlies are an incredibly physical team and therefore, the Pistons will have to match that whilst playing disciplined basketball — avoid live ball turnovers — in order to secure a win.

Read about the Grizzlies

3 Shades of Blue.

Nobody (Pistons) beats the Wiz?


  • Teams: Washington Wizards (13-14) at Detroit Pistons (14-18)
  • Date: December 30, 2013
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD Plus

What to look for

The Detroit Pistons are in the midst of arguably their worst five-game stretch of the season. During this timeframe, Detroit has been defeated four times by double digits and that’s putting it lightly.

The closest defeat was a loss at the hands of the Charlotte Bobcats by 10 points at home. The remaining defeats have come by an average of 19.3 points against the Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards.

Their most recent defeat came at the hands of a Wizards team two nights ago that has feasted on sub-.500 squads as of late. Indeed, Washington has won four of their past five contests.

The four wins came against Eastern Conference teams with losing records and the lone defeat was at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Washington might very well be the best bad team in the east.

They have the fourth-best record in the conference behind the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks. Furthermore, one could argue that they have the best core of all the losing teams in the conference (Brooklyn Nets notwithstanding).

The Wizards’ starting perimeter players seem to play well off each other thanks in large part to John Wall. The former Kentucky Wildcat possesses some great athletic gifts and consequently, he uses them to create advantageous matchups for his team.

Wall is a terror off the bounce when he gets into the lane and he forces defenses to converge upon him. From there, he can dish off to others for high-percentage looks. The beneficiaries of Wall’s play are typically Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal.

In 50 minutes of playing time versus the Pistons this season, the trio is scoring a staggering 119.4 points per 100 possessions according to NBA.com. As a reference point, the Portland Trail Blazers have the league’s best offense and produce 110.4 points per 100 possessions.

The biggest reason the threesome has been so potent in head-to-head matchups versus the Pistons is Trevor Ariza. Detroit simply has not been able to put the clamps on him. Indeed, the former Los Angeles Laker is averaging a Tracy McGrady-esque 21.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game on 52 percent shooting from the field against Maurice Cheek’s bunch. Most of his damage has been done from long range, where he has converted 10 of 17 treys.

If the Pistons wish to reverse their fortunes against the Wiz (have lost twice already to them), the first place to start is with Ariza.

Read about the Wizards

Truth About It.

Rodney Stuckey, Bradley Beal both slated to play in tonight’s Pistons-Wizards game


  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (14-17) at Washington Wizards (12-14)
  • Date: December 28, 2013
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Detroit Plus

What to look for

Rodney Stuckey didn’t play in the second half of the Pistons’ loss to the Magic on Friday, but Maurice Cheeks thinks the guard will play, according to Kyle Weidie of TruthAboutIt.net.

On the other side, Bradley Beal is starting, according to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press.

But rather than worry about a couple hurting guard, wouldn’t you rather watch Rasheed Wallace make corner 3s forever?

Read about the Wizards