Portland Trail Blazers (33-30) vs. Detroit Pistons (31-31)
Sunday, March 6
The Palace at Auburn Hills | 3:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNW; 620 AM
Portland injury report: None | Detroit injury report: Stanley Johnson (Out - Shoulder), Jodie Meeks (Out - Foot), Anthony Tolliver (Out - Knee)
SBN Affiliate: Detroit Bad Boys
After a 3-2 start, the Portland Trail Blazers hope to close out their six-game road trip on a high note in Detroit. The Pistons had been playing inspired basketball of late, winning four in a row, including victories over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, before dropping their last two games, including a loss to the hapless New York Knicks.
The Pistons feature one of the more balanced starting lineups in the league, with all five starters averaging more than 13 points per game. While Detroit doesn't play at a remarkable pace, they feature a top-10 defense that is built around emerging superstar center Andre Drummond.
Drummond, while displaying flashes of brilliance throughout his career, has seemingly put it all together this season, putting up 16.7 points and 15 rebounds per contest to go along with 1.5 blocks and steals per game. With a DRtg of 96, Drummond is one of the elite defensive big men in the game, with an ability to force opponents out of their comfort zone and alter countless shots in a way that doesn't show up in a conventional box score.
Of his 15 rebounds per game, five come on the offensive glass, where he uses his superior strength and positioning to pick up easy second chance points. Drummond's major weakness comes at the free throw line, where he shoots 35 percent on nearly eight attempts per game. Naturally, this leads to opposing head coaches taking the "Hack-a-Drummond" approach, which, similar to Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, limits his effectiveness in crunch time minutes.
That's not to say that Drummond is Detroit's only weapon. Point guard Reggie Jackson, who notably signed an eyebrow-raising five-year/$80 million extension with Detroit this past summer, is putting together a fine offensive season of his own, averaging 19 points and six assists in 30 minutes per contest.
Jackson has a solid pull-up game, but tends to either try to get to the rim or rely on his decent 3-point stroke, where he is a 37 percent shooter. Jackson has significantly improved his playmaking since joining the Pistons, and though he'll never be confused for Steve Nash, he does a solid job sharing the ball and making proper reads without an excess of careless turnovers.
Shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope rounds out the Detroit backcourt. An improving jump shooter, Caldwell-Pope still tends to shoot too many 3-pointers, putting up nearly five per game yet only connecting at a 30 percent clip. Caldwell-Pope is the Pistons' best wing shooter from inside the 3-point line, where he shoots 49 percent. He also has improved his defensive efficiency, averaging 1.5 steals per game, the only Detroit player aside from Drummond to average more than a steal per game.
After an offseason trade and a midseason acquisition, Detroit has a couple of new faces at the forward spots in Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris.
Morris, acquired in an offseason trade with Phoenix that notably caused friction between his twin brother Markieff Morris and the Suns organization, has made the most of his minutes in Detroit. While he was never able to fully pin down a starting forward job during his time with the Suns, Morris has started every game he has played this season, averaging 36 minutes a night. Unsurprisingly, he is putting up a career-high 13.7 points and five rebounds per game, though he is shooting less than 42 percent from the field; less than ideal for a hybrid forward.
Tobias Harris, acquired from the Orlando Magic at the trade deadline, has had an excellent run since joining Detroit, putting up 16.9 points and six rebounds per night. Harris is a talented scorer that features a solid corner 3-point shot. Similar to Morris, Harris is a tweener forward, so Detroit has the luxury of alternating frontcourt matchups as they see fit.
Though the starting unit is solid, Detroit's bench leaves much to be desired. Currently the Pistons' two highest usage reserves, Stanley Johnson and Anthony Tolliver, are injured -- leaving a 44 minute-per-game sized hole for coach Stan Van Gundy to fill. Consequently, Van Gundy has been forced to turn to Reggie Bullock, Aron Baynes, and Steve Blake for the bulk of the reserve minutes recently.
After five games in seven nights, the Blazers will likely be glad to be done with this road trip and back home after tonight's matchup. Already guaranteed at least .500 record on the trip, Portland needs to ensure that they are able to stay focused and hungry after being suffocated by the Boston Celtics and then falling just short in their comeback attempt in Friday's foul-fest, err....game against the Toronto Raptors.
Keys to the game
Energy: The Blazers have every excuse to take their ball (and their 3-3 road trip) and go home. The team needs to come out of the locker room strong at the start of both halves and refuse to let fatigue dictate the pace or outcome of tonight's game. Detroit has a solid halfcourt offense, but they can be run on.
Slow down Jackson: In the midst of a career year, Jackson can get going at a moment's notice (Exhibit A: his 25-point fourth quarter against Portland back in November). Portland's guards, Damian Lillard in particular, have done a better job at staying in front of their man and fighting through screens when defending pick-and-rolls. With Jackson's quick first step and superior midrange pull up jumper, it's on Lillard and CJ McCollum to do everything they can to make Jackson work for his points tonight.
Keep the reserves rolling: Detroit's bench is in dire straits right now, while Portland's reserves are playing as well as they have all season. Gerald Henderson, Maurice Harkless, Ed Davis, and Meyers Leonard are all contributing to various degrees, with only Allen Crabbe really struggling off the bench at the moment. This gives Terry Stotts the flexibility to play matchups and try different combinations within the flow of a game, a luxury that cannot be overstated.
Headed in to this road trip, fans would have been satisfied with a 3-3 split. The Blazers have a chance to exceed expectations and go 4-2 with a win tonight before they head back home and gear up for the rest of a difficult month. Though they gave up a fourth quarter lead in a stunning collapse against the Pistons back in November, these are two different teams at this point. Look for Portland to close out strong.