Game 45 Preview: Blazers vs. Pistons

Update (9:45AM):  Patty Mills has been recalled from the D League for tonight's game. Jerryd Bayless is officially listed as "questionable" with the sprained ankle suffered last night. -- Ben

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Game Time:  4:30 p.m.  TV:  Comcast

Ah, Detroit...who could have guessed that adding such luminaries as Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva you'd be muddling through the season with a 15-27 record at the halfway mark?  What's that you say?  Everybody guessed?  Well, you could hardly blame them.  Let's be honest.  A big part of the Pistons' woes has been the absence of old-school stars Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton for the majority of the season.  But Blazers fans are not interested in hearing about other people's injuries.  That's like complaining to Noah that your hot water heater sprung a leak.  Let's be honest again.  This team isn't very well constructed.  They have a lot of B-level players.  One could be on the way up to A-List status.  A couple are on their way down.  Some have just hovered there their whole careers.  But right here, right now the mesh isn't right.  You have too many people doing too many of the same things somewhat well.  The Pistons remind me a little of the Damon Stoudamire-Derek Anderson-Ruben Patterson era Blazers.  Everybody's decent, nobody wins.

The pride and joy of the roster right now is Rodney Stuckey, the 6'5" stat-stuffing point guard who allowed the Pistons to trade away Chauncey Billups lo those (couple of) years ago.  And Stuckey isn't disappointing.  He's averaging 18.5 points per game with 4.5 assists and rebounds.  His height gives him a natural advantage over most point guards stacked against him and he loves to exploit it.  At a shade under 41% his shooting percentage is a little low but it's not like the Pistons have better (or at least not more explosive) options.  Stuckey draws a lot of fouls with his hard-charging play and he can convert the free throws too.  He can't hit a three-pointer to save his life though.  He's also more of a scoring guard than a true point which has made the Pistons feel Rip Hamilton's absence even more, as Hamilton can make plays as well as shoot.

As seems to be typical of the Blazers as they catch teams lately, both Hamilton and Prince will play tonight.  Rip has been suffering illness but scored 27 last night in a loss to the Pacers.  Tayshaun has knee problems.  Neither may be up to snuff, but even a little of those two could spell trouble for Portland as shooting and wing coverage give the Blazers fits.

Without a true center healthy the Blazers may be more troubled by Ben Wallace, who is averaging 9.5 rebounds per game this year.  Juwan Howard has done a fair job getting position on 7-footers but Wallace is one of those guys you don't mess with.

Detroit's bench reads like a Who's Who of players everybody kind of appreciates but nobody really wants anymore.  Villanueva heads the bunch, averaging 14 per game on 44% shooting.  Forward Jonas Jerebko has been making waves with his combination of scoring and rebounding.  After that you're looking at guys like Chucky Atkins, Chris Wilcox, and Kwame Brown.  (Wilcox has started but not effectively.)  Power forward Jason Maxiell has potential but it's not being realized.  It's just a hodge-podge of 7's and 5's without a King or Ace to be found.

The Pistons have some definite strengths:  size, experience, offensive rebounding and a couple guys with potential explosiveness.  But so far those have been dwarfed by their weaknesses:  lack of consistent scoring, poor defense, no shot blocking, no offensive continuity, and the congenital inability of anyone on this squad to hit a three.  Detroit is incredibly slow-paced.  That style of game relies on smart execution, a variety of threats, and strong defense.  All three have been conspicuously absent this year.

Despite all of this, the game will not be a cakewalk for the Blazers.  Size and experience are two things Portland is ill-equipped to deal with right now.  If the Pistons have trouble with their offense, so too do the critically-injured Blazers.  This could double with the back-to-back off of an overtime loss in Boston.  If the Blazers are to win they'll have to work for it.  Coming off of a flat loss the Pistons probably will.

Keys to the Game

1.  Portland has to find a way to cope with Detroit's offensive rebounding.  They're beasts.  A large part of the Blazers' success last night was limiting Boston to one shot.  Tonight that will be critical as the Blazers will need to keep the Piston's offensive production below low to give themselves the best chance.

2.  This feels like a night where Portland needs to hit threes.  Detroit can't respond in kind and it's a quick way to pump the score up.  This is particularly true if Rudy has to play major minutes.  He needs to hit consistently.

3.  Detroit will foul if you encourage them.  They're not fleet of foot defensively.  Generate points from the line and try to make their best scorers sit.

4.  Rip Hamilton can probably carve the Blazers apart single-handedly with his mid-range jumpers.  Don't forget where you have to guard him.

5.  It's the end of the trip and a back-to-back, but you need to bring the same energy you brought last night.  In particular...the Pistons are slow-paced like the Blazers.  The first team to successfully push the tempo will probably win.

See the Pistons' P.O.V. at DetroitBadBoys.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

P.S.  For those marking their calendars ahead:

FEBRUARY 3 GAME AT UTAH MOVED TO 6 P.M. PST DUE TO NETWORK SCHEDULE CHANGE 

PORTLAND, Ore. - The Portland Trail Blazers' game at Utah on February 3 will now be broadcast on KGW NewsChannel 8 at 6:00 p.m. PST, following ESPN's removal of the game from its scheduled programming.

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