On Tap: The Detroit Pistons

 —  February 10, 2005

We have to start with this — that was a big win last night. I don’t want to get too high after one victory, but it’s hard because that was probably the most exciting game of the season. The Lakers are now 7-7 without Kobe and remain 1.5 games ahead of Minnesota for that last playoff spot (and we are 2.5 back of Memphis in the seventh spot).

It really helped to jump out to an early — if short lived — lead rather than fall behind big. That said, the Lakers fell behind anyway and mounted another Hamblen-trademark comeback. I’ve had my problems with Chucky Atkins this season, particularly on defense, but he hit key shots and was a +15 on the night. With Kobe out Atkins has had the chance to come off the pick-and-roll, something he did well in Boston and Detroit, and his numbers have picked up because of it. And, he can shoot. I like the idea of Atkins staying with the Lakers and coming off the bench in future years.

His +15 was second on the team, by the way, to Caron Butler’s +19. (On the other end of that spectrum, Brian Cook and Tierre Brown were -14, Brian Grant was -10.) We got solid play from Jumaine Jones and Luke Walton as well. Defensively, the Lakers did a better job on Vince Carter than the last game, by the way, even though he scored 27. He shot just 39.1% (eFG%) and he was -12 on the night.

(As a side note, you should check out the Popcorn Machine game flows when the days after each game, very enlightening stuff.)

That said, life in the NBA moves fast and tonight we are on to Detroit.

Here’s an amazing statistic — after Rasheed Wallace came to the Pistons last season, they allowed just 88.8 points per 100 possessions defensively. That’s insane. For some comparison, the best team in the NBA this season is the San Antonio Spurs at 94.0. The Lakers are at 104.2.

The bad news for the rest of the league is that the Pistons are healthy now and starting to look like last year’s Pistons more and more. This season the Pistons give up 97.1 points per 100 possessions, a number that has been falling lately. Teams shoot just 46.2% eFG% against them, the fourth best total in the league. They play good defense against all five positions — the only thing that seems to work against them is very good ball movement. The Pistons have won just 42% of their games against the top-10 teams in assists per game.

The Pistons like the game played slowly — they average 90.4 possessions per game, the slowest pace in the league. They score only 100.4 points per 100 possessions, but with their defense they don’t need to score a lot. They get most of their offensive production from the guard spots — Chauncey Billups has a PER of 18.38 and Richard Hamilton has 16.50. Also, watch out for Antonio McDyess off the bench, he has a team-high PER of 18.70 and has a field goal percentage of 54.9 this season.

This is a tough game for the Lakers, particularly on the second night of a back-to-back and at the end of a road trip. But last night should have taught us not to write this team off.