Home at last! And we get an interesting opponent to begin this stretch of 7 home dates in the next 9 games. The Bad Boy Detroit Pistons are coming to town. Except they're not quite as bad and they're struggling to get better...having spent every single day of the season so far within one game of .500.
When talking about the Pistons you have to start with the roster makeover from last year to this. Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Allen Iverson, Antonio McDyess...gone. Right now you also have to mention injuries, as Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince are both out for extended periods. Combined those two factors have left Detroit with only one of their top six rotation players from 2008-09, that being Rodney Stuckey. It's like somebody hit CTRL-ALT-DEL and only Stuckey was in the boot menu. On the bright side, the roster is now relatively virus and spam free.
Replacing the departed stars are a couple of offensive-minded B-listers: Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. Since the injuries to his teammates have left him free to score like a movie producer in a reality-show hot tub, Gordon has gotten off to a marvelous start. He's scoring over 22 a game in 38-39 minutes. Villanueva is also enjoying the green light, shooting 50% and adding almost 17 of his own. Stuckey is not shooting that well (41%) but who's going to tell him not to score? He's just over 17 ppg with 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Stuckey's understudy, Will "Don't Call Me Andrew" Bynum has posted double-figures in each of the last four games including 27 against the Mavericks on Sunday. He's a heavy part of the rotation now. After that, though, the Pistons' scoring drops off a cliff faster than Thelma and Louise on a bender. Detroit peppers the roster with familiar names--Ben Wallace, Kwame Brown, Jason Maxiell (love this guy), Chris Wilcox, Chucky Atkins--but half of those guys aren't playing and that half is scoring just about as much as the other. The Pistons still want to muscle up against you with their deeper ranks. Wallace carries the threat still but they undercut most of his cred by fielding Kwame Brown, a rookie from Gonzaga, and a Swedish dude. You could throw Brock Lesnar, Brian Urlacher, and a rabid wildebeest into that list and people would still laugh.
In general the Pistons want to keep the score low, the game ugly, and just let their scorers do their thing. They don't move the ball effectively. Their main guys all have the scoring mentality and they're not comfortable enough with each other yet to have developed a good rhythm. They're 29th in the league in points in the paint per game and 25th in fast-break points so they're basically working hard to get jumpers. They're dead last in the league in possessions per game, so you know they're grinding. They shoot an average percentage and depend greatly on stifling the opponent's shooting to stay ahead. If it seems to you like I'm also describing the Blazers here, you're pretty much right. The two teams have a ton of similarities as far as playing style. Detroit allows far fewer points in the paint than the Blazers do. The Blazers are far better rebounders. Other than that they're so similar that you might as well be looking at a picture of Tyson Chandler holding a great big tool. It makes for a fascinating matchup.
Pivotal Points of the Game
1. As we just mentioned, rebounding is going to be huge for the Blazers (as always). Detroit is a darn good offensive rebounding team. Their effort is spearheaded by Ben Wallace. Whichever Blazer has Wallace crawling over his back had better keep him there. The Pistons also allow a lot of offensive rebounds though. In every grinding game possession is key.
2. What are you going to do about Ben Gordon? He's small for a shooting guard so you can defend him with any number of people. But he's likely to score on all of them. The Blazers have done a decent job of taking away the opponent's #1 option this year. Doing it tonight would make a victory near certain. Charlie, Will, and Rodney probably aren't going to beat you. (Do watch out for Stuckey, though. He'll be your biggest problem if Gordon does get loose and you have to devote your attention to containing him. Stuckey could go for 30 on the Blazers.) One of the strategies the Blazers might use is making Gordon defend somebody in return. That's not a huge problem if Blake is out there for big minutes. But if you give Gordon a choice between guarding Miller or Rudy or Roy (either playing together or in pairs) he's not going to like any of the options. Whoever he's on, you run that guy around and get the ball to him.
3. The Pistons have played six games this year in which the opponent has topped 90. They've won one of those. Just score, baby.
4. Oden vs. Wallace will be an intriguing matchup. The Blazers turn Big Ben loose on defense if they are forced to run Przybilla against him. You know Wallace will want to bruise Greg. Greg needs to stand up, score, rebound, and generally play tough. Watch to see where Oden sets up in the post tonight. If he's two feet farther out than normal you know things are not going well. Two fouls in four minutes is also a pretty good sign...
Final Thoughts and Links
The Blazers gave fantastic effort in the Atlanta game. They need to beware complacency when coming home off of that trip. You won't win because you're home. You'll win because you play hard and wrest this game away from the opponent. Effort is everything tonight. Portland can overcome bad shooting, lack of fastbreak points, even Oden troubles but if the team effort isn't there Detroit will happily take the win.
Read more about the Pistons at MotownStringMusic
Here is the Jersey Contest Form for tonight's game.