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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Detroit Pistons Preview

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Gabriel Frye-Behar from Detroit Bad Boys visits Blazer's Edge to provide some insight into the Detroit Pistons and star center Andre Drummond as they prepare to face the Blazers in the Moda Center on Sunday night.

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Portland Trail Blazers (4-2) vs. Detroit Pistons (4-1)
Sunday, November 8
Moda Center | 6:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSN NW; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Gerald Henderson (Out) | Detroit injury report: Jodie Meeks (Out), Brandon Jennings (Out)
SBN Affiliate: Detroit Bad Boys | Blazer's Edge Night 2016

The Portland Trail Blazers (4-2) will face off against a hot Detroit Pistons (4-1) team in the Moda Center at 6:00 PST tonight.

The Blazers are hoping to win their fourth consecutive game, coming off a 3-0 week highlighted by a 19-point stomping of the Memphis Grizzlies on national TV. Portland has been led by the prolific scoring of its starting backcourt of Damian Lillard (27.3 points per game) and C.J. McCollum (22.2 ppg).

The Detroit Pistons have also exceeded preseason expectations, streaking to a 4-1 record with victories over Atlanta, Utah, and Chicago. Pistons center Andre Drummond is the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, and is averaging 18.6 points and 19 rebounds per game.

Instead of writing a traditional preview we decided to do a Q&A exchange with Gabriel Frye-Behar from our sbnation affiliate Detroit Bad Boys. Gabe offers some great insight into the Pistons' outlook for the rest of the season, as well as tonight's matchup with the Blazers.

UPDATE: You can check out my side of the Q&A over on Detroit Bad Boys.

Q: Much like the Blazers, the Pistons have gotten off to a hot start. They’re 4-1 and have beaten several presumptive playoff teams. We all know that Andre Drummond has been playing out of his mind, but the Pistons defense has also been exceptional. Detroit currently has the second best defensive rating in the league at 94.6 after finishing No. 19 last season with a rating of 106.4. What has been the impetus behind this massive improvement? Is it sustainable for a full 82 games?

A: If I had to pinpoint a central factor for the defensive improvement I would say it starts with Andre Drummond improving as a help defender while significantly lowering his foul rate (thus allowing him to stay on the court). The Pistons defense is built around the big guy in the middle and he's delivered so far even better than I think most fans could have hoped. The other major source of improvement has been Kentavious Caldwell-Pope turning his elite athleticism into absolutely stifling perimeter defense. There have been multiple plays (like this one) where he's shocked an offensive player with his recovery speed to either block a shot or close down on a shooter. Overall Drummond's ability to control the paint has allowed the Pistons perimeter defenders to stay home on shooters and that has paid off with the opposing teams shooting below 30% on 3's.

While there will certainly be more hiccups defensively as teams figure out how to attack the new-look Pistons roster, particularly the fairly weak bench, I think the basic formula (imposingly enormous big man + athletic perimeter defenders = good defense) is sound and should continue to make life difficult for opposing offenses throughout the season.

Q: The Blazers and Damian Lillard agreed to a maximum contract extension this summer. In doing so the team lost about $10 million in cap space, but guaranteed that its franchise player would be around for several more seasons. The Pistons made the opposite choice with Andre Drummond, opting to negotiate his presumed maximum contract next season. Do you think that was the right choice, or would you have preferred that Drummond be extended this summer? Also, Greg Monroe signed a qualifying offer and left Detroit last season; theoretically Drummond could now do the same. How has that experience affected reactions to Drummond’s non-extension?

A: Hopefully Pistons fans aren't being naive, but I would put the concern that Drummond would leave at maybe 1% (the story of Monroe's departure really goes back to Joe Dumars absolutely bungling things towards the end of his GM tenure). With that in mind, the general sentiment that I've seen is support for the decision to wait on an extension. I think SVG has sold Drummond on the idea that the Pistons roster is closer than people realize to championship contention, and the difference between a roster that tops out at a 2nd round exit and one that could theoretically compete for a championship could be in those extra few million dollars in cap space the Pistons will have because of Drummond being willing to wait on an extension. It's a gamble, but it seems like all the stakeholders are on exactly the same page.

Q: Brandon Jennings played very well for the Pistons in the games immediately following Josh Smith’s departure last season, before tearing his Achilles tendon and missing the second half of the season. There are reports that he hopes to return to practice this week. How will his return affect the Pistons?

A: If Jennings can return to his previous form he would be a vital addition to the Pistons bench. The bench play, particularly at PG has been a glaring weaknesses so far, and Jennings leadership (seriously!) and shot creation ability are exactly what the bench currently lack. There's some thought that he will be a trade chip at the deadline because of the Reggie Jackson extension, but IMO if Jennings is playing well SVG will keep him and hope he can be a difference maker in the playoffs.

Q: Marcus Morris is averaging 17.8 points and 7.2 rebounds, after being acquired from Phoenix for a second round pick in a salary dump. Do you see him as a part of the Pistons’ long term plans?

The general thought with Morris is he's at the very least in the Pistons medium term plans, as he brings a measure of intensity that the team has been sorely lacking in previous seasons and Drummond has yet to really develop. The place Morris could fit long term is potentially at PF, with the idea being he can shift there when Stanley Johnson (who the Pistons are very high on) pushes himself into the starting lineup at SF. That would be the final piece of the puzzle in SVG remaking the Pistons roster in the image of his vintage Dwight Howard/Orlando Magic teams.

Q: What are the Pistons' keys to the game tonight against the Blazers?

A: Aside from Drummond hitting his free throws (it seemed like he'd finally turned a corner with them, and then the wheels came off again in his last game [Eric's note: If the game is close down the stretch could we see the fabled double Hack-a-Plumlee/Drummond?!]), I think it's going to be Reggie Jackson and Caldwell-Pope making Lillard and McCollum work hard on defense. If Jackson and KCP can remain aggressive and make the Blazers guards use up some of their energy fighting through picks, chasing off-ball cuts, etc, the Pistons defense seems to match-up decently. Lillard is obviously the key, and I wouldn't be surprised if KCP spent large stretches matched up against him and attempts to crowd his shot. My guess is the Pistons will follow a similar formula to what's worked for them thus far - slow the pace to a crawl, use Drummond to bludgeon guys in the paint, and try and force the Blazers third/fourth/fifth options to score enough points to win. Should be a fun game!

Thanks, again, to Gabriel Frye-Behar of Detroit Bad Boys for offering some expert insight into the Pistons!

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