The Portland Trail Blazers are set to make their 2023 calendar year debut tonight with a tilt against the Detroit Pistons at the Moda Center. The 18-17 Blazers would normally feel confident against the 10-29 Pistons, owners of the worst record in the NBA. But Portland has lost 5 of their last 7, having to overcome a problematic start to beat the victory-impoverished Charlotte Hornets at home last week. No game is a guarantee at this point. Nonetheless, it’ll be an opportunity for Portland to get back on the right track before heading out for three moderately-tough road games this week.
Blazers vs. Pistons —Monday, January 2nd, 7:00 PM, Pacific
How to Watch: Root Sports Northwest, Bally Sports Detroit, NBA League Pass
Blazers Injuries: Nassir Little (out), Justise Winslow (out), Greg Brown III (questionable), Keon Johnson (questionable)
Pistons Injuries: Cade Cunningham (out), Killian Hayes (suspended), Isaiah Livers (out), Buddy Boeheim (day to day)
SBN Affiliate: Detroit Bad Boys
What to Watch For
Gary Payton Returns— For the first time all year, Gary Payton II was not listed on the Trail Blazers’ injured list. That probably means his recovery from off-season surgery is complete and he’s ready to take the floor. He’s not likely to have a major impact while shaking the rust off, but this is a good game to get him some run. The Blazers head out on the road against Minnesota, Indiana, and Toronto this week. Those are all more guard-intensive lineups than the injured Pistons provide. With Portland in desperate need of backcourt defense, having Payton up and running should be a boon.
Toxic Production— The Pistons are bad, in large part, because they hold the 28th-best field goal percentage in the league while their defense allows the 27th-worst. You could drive two semis and a blimp through that gap and never touch the sides. That should make the game easy for Portland if the Blazers don’t allow Detroit stupid points. Those would be the kind anybody can score: points off turnovers, fast breaks, offensive rebounds.
Beware the Bench— Although Detroit’s injured, suspended, and under-talented offensive lineup is nothing to write home about (unless mom likes horror novels), their bench plays hard and has provided a boost in recent games. Meanwhile Portland’s bench has been under-performing. Even if the win isn’t in question—and it shouldn’t be—getting there without having to play the starters 38 minutes apiece would be nice. That would require the Blazers reserves to come strong. If it’s time for a New Year’s resurgence, this is a good start.
What People are Saying
Material on the Pistons that doesn’t include the words “Victor Wembanyama” is hard to come by, but Mark Deeks of Forbes is praising Detroit center Isaiah Stewart and his developing shooting ability.
On the season to date, Stewart has shot 47-126 from three, a healthy 37.3% percentage, and the mid-range and baseline attempts have almost gone entirely. Stewart is spotting up and popping more than he is rolling and deep-paint-catching this year, and while the overall shooting percentage has gone down to 46.7%, the added threes (plus a far higher free throw rate) has seen his true shooting percentage climb from .550 to .597. The Pistons are running pick-and-pops for Stewart and empowering him to take trailers in transition, and with this added diversification in his game has come better resultant output.
Meanwhile Brooks Warren of SLAM cites NBA Head Coaches impressed by rookie guard Jaden Ivey:
“At the point guard position, more than anything, just understanding the NBA game,” [Los Angeles Clippers Head Coach Tyronn] Lue said when asked about the big problem young guards faces. “What (Ivey) does every single night? He plays hard, he attacks, and he gets downhill. Soon, he’ll see, ‘OK, I have to get a mid-range shot. Now, I have to improve my 3-point shooting.’ That’ll open up everything for him. The change of pace, change of speeds … he’ll get that. Right now, he’s a lot like [Russell] Westbrook when he came into the game — getting downhill, attacking.