USA TODAY Sports
A five-game road trip lies dead ahead for the Portland Trail Blazers. Before that they get a chance to put away a disjointed, poor-performing Detroit Pistons team in the Rose Garden. Will the Blazers rise to the challenge or let down after Thursday's romp against New York?
Say hello to the Detroit Pistons everybody. They carry a 23-44 record, 8-24 on the road, into their matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers tonight in a game beginning at 7:00 p.m. Pacific, televised on CSNNW locally. Believe it or not, they're actually playing worse than their record would indicate, having lost 10 out of their last 11.
The Pistons' recipe for winning is simple. If they score 100 or more their record is a relatively-decent-looking 15-8 (leaving them 8-36 when they fail to reach triple digits). The problem is, they can't do it. They're 23rd in the league in scoring at 94.4 per game. They meld the crippling combination of a slow pace and inefficient offense into an amalgam of futility. They can score in the paint when center Greg Monroe decides to go inside or grab an offensive rebound (though about a third of his shots are jumpers). They've got one good three-point shooter in Jose Calderon. They do well in transition when they can manage to run. After that they're utterly unremarkable.
Part of the problem is they just don't have the horses to score. Monroe is the great hope but he's inconsistent and doesn't bang enough to get high percentage looks. Calderon is a nice player but not someone you build an offense around. He's more of a guy who takes advantage of the attention you're paying to other players, stabbing you in the side while you're looking elsewhere. But where else are you going to look? Outside of rebounding Jason Maxiell hasn't scared anybody in years. Neither has Rodney Stuckey, though he looks better with a real point guard on the floor beside him, allowing him to shoot without remorse. That's the only way he's effective, though, taking free rein to put up shots when he feels like it. Kyle Singler combines all of these qualities: nice player, not someone to carry the offense, but looks better when he's in rhythm firing plenty of shots than when he's trying to fit in. Detroit's offense is a huge void looking for someone to fill it. Plenty of Detroit players would like to fill it but don't have the talent or the chops. Everybody's trying to take the wheel but nobody actually knows how to drive. They're not much good at helping each other out. Their bench guys are either too old, too injured, duplicate positions of relative strength, or just aren't effective enough.
The most glaring flaw in Detroit's offense is that it just can't keep up with their permissive defense. They allow too many fast break points and points in the paint for the speed they try to play. They're no better than average defending mid-range and long shots and they give up offensive rebounds and second chances. They don't force turnovers even though they commit plenty themselves.
In short, the Pistons are locked into a plodding, ineffective offense and don't have the defensive ability to break out of it by forcing the opponents into mistakes and bad shots. They're not even that sure of getting the rebound on any miss. They have to run down the checklist of defensive responsibilities on every play, making sure everything is in order, turn in the proper forms in triplicate, and get a signed permission slip before they're ready to turn around and "attack" on offense again. That's not going to win many games.
Nevertheless, this game is not without its dangers for the Blazers. Any team with a reasonably good center is an instant threat on Portland's radar screen. Monroe isn't the most intimidating or consistent guy but he more than qualifies. Monroe dropped 20 and 10 on Portland earlier in the year for one of Detroit's wins. Guards are another issue. The Pistons have plenty of them and they all like to score. Brandon Knight put up 26 in that first meeting. He's out tonight but don't think that Stuckey, Calderon, Singler, and company haven't noticed.
Naturally the Blazers also have to fight letdown syndrome. Thursday's game against the Knicks was a high point emotionally for multiple reasons. For good or ill Portland responds to emotion. There just ain't much for a late-season affair against the Pistons. If the Blazers were more experienced, professional, closer to playoff contention... (sigh)
The Blazers will probably win this game. Chances are the results will be closer than they appear in the mirror. But heading out on a five-game road trip, any win would be acceptable no matter how it happens.
Detroit Bad Boys has a whole new meaning nowadays, but they still cover the Pistons.
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