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Game 9 Preview: Pistons vs. Trail Blazers

Game Time:  7:00 p.m.   TV: CSNNW

Dave's Rule to Live By #8:  Just because you got beat up by Nelson Muntz is no reason to run from Ralph Wiggum.

OK, maybe the Pistons aren't that bad but their prospects in Portland tonight aren't shiny.  The good news is their two-game winning streak.  They've taken out the Bobcats and the Warriors in consecutive games.  The bad news is that those are the only two games they've won.  The Warriors are the only team with any measure of success they've beaten.  Their 102 points in that game was only the second time all season they've broken the century mark, also notching 104 versus Oklahoma City.  They've not won a road game.  And in case anybody has forgotten or just repressed the memory, the Blazers just came off of a trouncing for the ages.  If Nate McMillan can find any five players with half a lepton's worth of pride this should be a long night for the Pistons.

On Detroit's side, Ben Gordon joins a long list of guards off to an incredible start this season.  His 18.3 ppg average looks pedestrian until you realize he's doing it on 55% shooting from the field, 40% from the three-point arc.  The only thing keeping him from 20+ is not drawing superstar fouls.  In an interesting development the Pistons flip-flopped Gordon and Rip Hamilton against the Warriors, letting Rip start and bringing Ben off the bench.  Golden State zeroed in on Gordon, holding him to 6 shots.  He made half of them for 7 points, which would appear to be an advantage.  Hamilton scored 27 though.  Gordon's 6 assists were icing on the cake as the Pistons marched to victory.

Besides Gordon and the recently-resurgent Hamilton the Pistons also feature Rodney Stuckey, the point guard they traded Chauncey Billups to make room for.  Stuckey is doing well enough at 16 and 6 in 32 minutes with an impressive 3.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.  He can explode at any given moment and the Pistons are still high on him.

Besides that, the Pistons start an aging and not-dominant Tayshaun Prince who, like his teammates, is an effective scorer but not a volume guy.  More disturbingly his once-trademark defense has gone downhill to the point of being non-recognizable.  Accompanying Prince is 6'11" beanpole sophomore Austin Daye.  He likes to operate outside but his shot isn't falling so far this year...a major hole in Detroit's offensive plans.  Ben Wallace rounds out the starters.  He's still a good rebounder and defender but he doesn't play long minutes anymore.

Besides whichever of Gordon or Hamilton isn't starting, the Pistons' main guy off the bench is Charlie Villanueva.  He's far more perimeter-oriented than he was earlier in his career but he can stills score and rebound.  Power forward Jason Maxiell once struck fear in hearts for his rebounding but he's had 3 DNP-CD's in a row now.  His spot has been taken by 6'11", 250lb Greg Monroe who is rebounding the dickens out of the ball.   Tracy McGrady also plays occasionally for this team though he's having a semi-miserable year so far and appears to be on his way out of the league as less than an afterthought.

The Pistons have a couple of problems.  One is that they feature a herd of B-level offensive players.  Gordon is legit and Stuckey can go but they're intermittent.  Rip Hamilton has seen his best days.  Most of the other guys won't have better days.  They're efficient enough and when everyone is clicking they'll be fine but all it takes is one or two players having an off night and they're stuck in Low-90's-Land.  The solution is to have Stuckey or Gordon try and blast them through but that's easy to predict and compensate for.  Second, they're not the defenders they once were.  They're allowing opponents 47.3% shooting from the field.  The only place they really defend well is the three-point arc.  Couple that with the first problem and you start to understand their record.  They can't score enough to get out of debt.  Third, they don't always work hard or together.  Their mix is a little odd physically, stylistically, and even in age mix.  Prince and Wallace could help a team on the cusp but there's too much space in Detroit right now for them to make up at this stage of their careers.  Stuckey's kind of a fish-and-fowl point guard.  Gordon is a short off-guard.  They're just a little confusing as a team.

The Pistons can shoot threes well and all of them can rebound.  These are two areas where Portland excels, least on a good night.  Portland's three-point defense has been stingy this year and the Blazers can all hit the boards too.  Plus Portland should be able to use height and bulk to get over or through Piston counterparts.   The Blazers should know to defend the one-on-one play from the guards, force them to rely on non-backcourt players for offense, and rebound the miss.  In short, with even an average level of effort this game should be right in the Blazers' wheelhouse.  Any game can be lost from lack of effort, of course, but this one better not be.

Hear the Detroit perspective at Detroit Bad Boys.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.

Let's hope for a convincing win.

--Dave (