Portland Trail Blazers (16-4) vs. Detroit Pistons (3-18)
Tuesday, December 9
The Palace of Auburn Hills; Auburn Hills, MI | 4:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: C.J. McCollum | Out for the Pistons: Jodie Meeks
SBN Affiliate: Detroit Bad Boys | Timmay's Viewing Guide | BE's 2014-15 Pistons Season Preview | Blazer's Edge Night
The Blazers make a stop in Detroit this afternoon to square off with the Pistons, a team that's lost 12 straight games and hasn't won since Nov. 14 against the injury-depleted Thunder.
To say things aren't going well for the Pistons might be an understatement. Over the last five games, they're No. 21 in the NBA in points scored per game (97.2), No. 20 in three-point shooting (32.5 percent) and No 30 in overall field goal percentage (38.3 percent). Detroit features average ball movement and doesn't consistently struggle with turnovers, getting to the line often.
Forward Josh Smith leads the Pistons with 16.2 shot attempts per game over the last five, but he's been good for just 38.3 percent of his field goals. Smith's detractors might point out his horrible shot-selection -- he has a history of settling for inefficient, long jumpers when he's been an effective interior scorer in the past -- but he's only attempted about one three-pointer a game the last five, and two-thirds of his tries have come within a few feet of the hoop. Smith can't score efficiently from anywhere on the court lately, and has averaged fewer points than shot attempts this season.
Yes, things look grim for the Pistons, and there's not much hope among the team's faithful that things will turn around anytime soon. Detroit Bad Boys user revken wrote this past weekend:
"Frankly, a 2-8 record over the next 10 outings does not appear to be a pessimistic projection for a team that has played under .200 ball so far this season. Given that the opposition Detroit will face is loaded with teams who have legitimate playoff aspirations, even reaching 5-25 could be expecting too much. While the schedule for the rest of the year might offer them some more respite, unless these Pistons improve their play they are in real danger of matching the worst record in franchise history - 16-66 in 1979-90."
Apparently, optimism is hard to come by when your starting point guard is shooting 23.2 percent from the field and 17.6 percent from deep like Brandon Jennings has over his last five games. In about a dozen shots a night in that same span, shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hasn't been much better, making just 41 percent of his shots and 30.8 percent of his three-pointers.
Center Andre Drummond shoots exclusively at the rim, and he's made almost half his field goals the last several games. Forward Greg Monroe has responded to being moved to the bench in favor of forward Kyle Singler by posting a 41.8 shooting percentage from the field the last five games. Singler, on the other hand, hasn't scored well within the arc but has capitalized on the right corner three-pointer to bring his outside shooting to 42.9 percent in that span. Monroe has padded his scoring numbers by getting to the free throw line over eight times a night lately.
Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy usually rolls with a 10-man rotation. Point guard D.J. Augustin plays a sizable chunk of minutes off the bench but has been inefficient with his shooting. Forwards Cartier Martin and Jonas Jerebko should both get a handful of minutes tonight, but haven't contributed a lot lately on offense, though Jerebko did go for nine points on 4-of-9 shooting in a loss to the Thunder Sunday night. Small forward Caron Butler has made 50 percent of his threes the last five games, but he doesn't shoot often and is pretty ineffective from elsewhere.
The Pistons' defense gives up a lot of points, but they usually don't come inside. Instead, opposing teams can bomb away from outside against a soft perimeter defense from Detroit that allows fairly easy passing. The Pistons foul pretty regularly, but their aggressiveness is occasionally rewarded as they force a decent amount of turnovers via steals. Drummond is a good shot-blocker and defends the rim well.
The Blazers have cooled off a bit lately in the scoring department. Their field goal percentage has been down, sitting at 43.5 percent the last five games, good for No. 24 in the league in that time. The three-point shooting has been just as bad, down to 29.5 percent the last couple weeks. Portland has been able to eek out victories lately partially due to preventing two efficient modes of scoring: the outside shot and the free throw. Teams don't attempt many threes against the Blazers and when they do, they're defended well. Portland doesn't put teams at the foul line often, also defending inside well.
Point guard Damian Lillard has been terrible from outside lately and hasn't been able to finish at the rim. His best shot has been from the midrange, but he doesn't go to it often and has attacked the basket with regularity, going to the line 7.2 times a game the last five. Unfortunately, Lillard's had an issue with his free throw shooting lately since starting the season 90+ percent from the foul line, sinking to just 75 percent his last five outings.
Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, the NBA's reigning Player of the Week, hung 24 points on the Knicks Sunday, shooting 9-of-19 from the field. His interior scoring the last couple weeks has dipped, but his midrange shot -- which he goes to for over 60 percent of his attempts -- is back to normal at about 45 percent.
Shooting guard Wesley Matthews re-discovered his outside shot Sunday against the Knicks, connecting on 3-of-6 from deep and pouring in 18 points. He's also scored efficiently from midrange and within the key lately. Small forward Nicolas Batum made a few strides in New York, making four of his eight field goals and two of his five threes while still setting up his teammates and raking in seven assists. At this point, stringing together two solid offensive outings would be a good things for Batum. Still, he leads the team in assists per game for the last five and contributes even when not scoring.
Center Robin Lopez had a pretty nondescript night against the Knicks, and his shooting percentage is hovering below 40 percent the last couple weeks. The same can be said for reserve center Chris Kaman. Drummond presents a difficult challenge for Lopez and Kaman inside, but Detroit has no depth at center to speak of and he averages under 30 minutes a night. One or both of Portland's centers should be able to pick up a few extra points against Detroit, especially when Drummond's taking a rest.
Backup point guard Steve Blake continues to follow promising shooting nights with lackluster outings, but he's been able to find teammates for open shots whether or not his own are going in. Wing Allen Crabbe -- aka "Ceiling Fan" -- hasn't strung together multiple big offensive nights but really only takes what the defense gives him, and has had a few easy scores the last couple games on leak-outs with serviceable shooting from deep. Big man Joel Freeland won't make a huge impact on the stat-sheet, but his hands around the offensive boards keep possessions alive and he's hit his shots in the paint consistently this year.
The Pistons get a ton of offensive rebounds, but they also create a lot of those rebounding opportunities by shooting pretty poorly from the field. By percentage, they're a much more average team on the offensive glass and slightly better on the defensive end. Detroit's main frontline rotation outside of Singler -- Drummond, Monroe, Smith and Jerebko -- is full of capable rebounders. The Blazers respond with one of the best rebounding frontcourts in the entire league, led by Aldridge, Kaman and Lopez. Expect a pretty even matchup on the boards tonight.
Portland has found ways to win recently, playing from behind (Dec. 2 in Denver) and at a slow pace (Dec. 4 against Indiana). Detroit represents another down-and-out opponent the Blazers easily overmatch on paper. Even so, the Pistons have lost 12 in a row and will be looking to end that losing streak at home before they hit the road for a three-game road trip at the end of the week.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
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